EXCLUSIVE: First Avenue expands real estate team

The London- and New York-based placement and investment advisory firm has hired a new senior capital raiser in real estate as it grows its overall business globally.

First Avenue Partners has brought aboard a new principal and senior capital raiser, Rob Bilse. He will be responsible for raising capital for private equity real estate funds, as well as bringing in new business for both funds and direct investments. Bilse will be focused primarily on distribution in the US. He initially will spend the bulk of his time on real estate, but is expected to eventually expand into First Avenue's other lines of business, which include private equity; real assets, including infrastructure, energy and natural resources; private credit and liquid products.

Bilse, who joined First Avenue last month, most recently was a managing director at a boutique real estate investment bank, where he was in charge of raising capital for real estate equity transactions. Before that, he worked as a capital raiser at private equity real estate firms such as Brookfield Asset Management and Prudential Real Estate Investors.

“Rob's hire represents another milestone in the development of our US franchise and a critical component in our coverage of global real estate investors,” Paul Buckley, partner and chief executive at First Avenue told PERE . “Rob's prior expertise in direct investment transactions will be particularly important given the continued evolution of investors away from pure fund structures towards 'club' and 'direct' real estate investments.”

Bilse will be one of four real estate specialists globally, along with principal Justin Mallis in New York, principal Caroline James in London and partner David Breuner in San Francisco. Currently, the firm is handling three real estate mandates, including a European real estate debt fund, an Africa-focused vehicle and a US multifamily fund, with target sizes ranging from $300 million to $1 billion. First Avenue also is doing active due diligence on three secondary transactions because of investor interest in direct deals. One of First Avenue's more recent real estate mandates was M&G Real Estate Debt Funds II and III, which attracted a total of £1.35 billion in March of last year, according to the firm's website.

Bilse's hire follows the recruitment of six new professionals this year, including Patricia Chalian, who joined from Forbes Private Capital as a principal in New York focused on project management and Jenny Nelson, formerly of Partners Group, as a vice president focused on distribution. She will be based in First Avenue's new San Francisco office, which opened last week. Other new 2015 hires include Hiti Singh as a senior member of the project management team in London; Mike Taylor as a principal with the North American distribution team and Patrick Shuttleworth as a vice president covering institutional investors in the UK and the Netherlands. 

Additionally, the firm established a new office in Sydney in April 2014, and brought aboard three investment professionals to the New York team toward the end of last year. First Avenue also is preparing to add a Hong Kong office in November.