Avenida eyes Colombian retail project

The creation of a 400,000-square-foot shopping centre in the city of Yopal will be the New York-based firm’s first investment on behalf of its Colombia-focused real estate fund.

Avenida Capital will invest in the construction of a 400,000-square-foot shopping centre in the city of Yopal, marking the New York-based firm’s first investment on behalf of its debut real estate fund, Avenida Colombia Real Estate Fund (CREF) I. The proposed shopping centre, Unicentro Yopal, will be the first enclosed, air-conditioned shopping centre in the city, which is the capital of the state of Casanare and roughly 240 miles from Bogota. 

The project is expected to cost around $40 million to develop, and Avenida is executing the construction in conjunction with a local developer. Although Avenida managing director Alexander Chalmers would not disclose the name of the developer or how much each partner is committing to Unicentro Yopal, he told PERE that his firm will provide the “majority of the equity capital to this project.”

CREF I is an opportunistic vehicle targeting $125 million in equity commitments. The fund is focused on development projects primarily in the retail and middle-income residential housing sectors across the primary and secondary cities of Colombia. Although it initially was reported that the fund was expecting a first close in the fourth quarter of 2011, a first close is now expected sometime this summer.

Since the fund has not yet had a first close, Chalmers noted that the management team of Avenida is committing its own capital to Unicentro Yopal. “When you have a real estate project like this, there’s a definitive timeline,” he said. “We couldn’t wait, so we funded it ourselves.” Despite funding Unicentro Yopal directly, the shopping centre will be included as part of CREF I and labelled its first portfolio investment.

Unicentro Yopal is slated to have a total of 124 shops, with French-based global grocer Carrefour and Cinemark Cinemas serving as its anchor tenants. The proposed retail centre, which will incorporate energy-efficient bio-climate systems and other sustainable aspects into the design, is scheduled to open in the second half of 2013. 

Separately, Carlos Torres has joined Avenida’s management team, where he will be in charge of project execution for all of CREF I’s investments. He will be based in Avenida’s office in Bogota, increasing the firm’s Bogota-based team to four people. 

“The addition of Carlos is significant for our team and our ability to source the best projects in the country and execute on them to successful completion,” Chalmers said. “[He] has a very astute grasp on the market dynamics and sectors for our fund strategy.”  

Torres is the former president and general manager of Colombian retail and residential property developer Pedro Gomez & CIA. Over a six-year period, he was in charge of developing six large-format shopping centres and more than 20 residential projects throughout Colombia.