Mr. Big

Mark Weisdorf, who oversaw $5 billion in private equity commitments, sees even bigger opportunities in infrastructure.

Mark Weisdorf keeps this up, he may get pigeonholed as the guy who builds huge things from scratch. Not a bad role, to be sure.

Weisdorf was recently named global chief investment officer of JPMorgan Asset Management's newly unveiled infrastructure investment group. The firm as yet has no products to speak of, but these are on the horizon and, if Weisdorf matches the track record he left behind at Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, it won't be long before his team has many zeros behind its AUM number.

Weisdorf, a Canadian, was hired in 2000 by Toronto-based CPP Investment Board, an asset manager for one of Canada's largest pensions, to build out a major allocation to private equity and other alternative asset classes, including real estate and infrastructure. Prior to joining the pension, Weisdorf had worked at HSBC Securities and CIBC Wood Gundy. The pension has an extremely long-term outlook and Weisdorf concluded that a ten percent allocation to private equity was a good target to begin with.

CPP made its first-ever commitment to a private equity fund in 2001. By the end of 2003, when Weisdorf resigned from CPP, the private equity portfolio had grown to roughly $4.2 billion, thanks to a steady stream of hefty commitments to private equity funds in Canada, the US and Europe. CPP also backed some innovative deals, for example, putting €221 million behind the €1.5 billion spinout of MidOcean Partners from Deutsche Bank.

At JPMorgan, Weisdorf will report to Joe Azelby, the global head of real estate within the asset management group. Infrastructure investments— which can include toll roads, pipelines, ports, airports and other essential conduits of commerce—can present very predictable cash flow, and these assets also tend to come with very large price tags, which makes them an ideal place for certain types of investors to park capital.

Last year, Goldman Sachs reportedly began efforts to raise an infrastructure fund of its own with a $5 billion target. This move comes in the wake of Australian bank Macquarie's ongoing and successful campaign of buying up infrastructure assets around the world.

Weisdorf, who has relocated to New York, says his group will initially focus on assets in North America and Western Europe, where the risk/return profile matches most closely what JPMorgan's clients want from the asset class.

Landmark adds secondary specialist
Simsbury, Connecticut-based Landmark Partners, a firm that specializes in secondary private equity and real estate investments, has hired Ian Charles as a vice president of the firm. Charles, who had previously founded secondaries firm Cogent Partners, will be responsible for sourcing private equity and real estate secondary transactions at Landmark. Prior to Cogent, Charles was part of the investment team at The Crossroads Group. Last month, Landmark closed its fifth real estate fund, Landmark Real Estate Partners V, on $368 million (€300 million). Founded in 1989, the firm has raised 18 funds focused on venture capital, buyout, mezzanine and real estate partnerships totaling more than $4.6 billion.

Arizona names new RE head
Arizona State Retirement System, which oversees assets of $23 billion (€19 billion), has named Eric Rovelli as real estate portfolio manager. He replaces Cesar Porte, who joined the pension fund in 2004 from the Oregon Public Employees' Retirement System. Rovelli was previously assistant portfolio manager responsible for equity and real estate investments. In his new role, he will report to chief investment officer Gary Dokes. In 2004, ASRS, which had not previously been active in real estate, adopted a six percent allocation to the sector.

Ohio PERS looks for new director
Laurie Fiori Hacking, an executive director of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, has left the pension fund for a position at the Minnesota Teachers Retirement Association. In the early 1990s, Hacking worked as an executive director at another Minnesota pension fund, the Public Employees Retirement System of Minnesota. OPERS recently put out an RFP for an executive recruitment firm to help with the search for Hacking's replacement. Since Hacking joined OPERS, the pension fund has grown its assets from $56.6 billion (€47.5 billion) to $68.6 billion. Last year, OPERS named a new director of investments, Jennifer Hom, who replaced the late Neil Toth.

Jamestown loses 13-year veteran
Stephen Zoukis has resigned from Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties after 13 years at the firm. Zoukis, a general partner at Jamestown, was the firm's outside legal counsel when Christopher Kahl founded the company in 1983. Zoukis is considering launching his own firm and is reportedly talking with investors and other industry contacts about possible next steps. Unlike the traditional core focus that Jamestown employs, Zoukis' new vehicle will reportedly focus on opportunistic investments and will be based in New York. Founded in 1983, Jamestown and its affiliates have acquired $6.0 billion (€5.0 billion) of assets representing $2.7 billion of equity through 26 different partnerships.

Blackstone buys MeriStar for $2.6bn
The Blackstone Group has announced the acquisition of MeriStar Hospitality Corp, a NYSE-traded REIT, for $2.6 billion (€2.2 billion) as it continues to expand its hotel portfolio. MeriStar owns and operates 57 full-service hotels under a number of brands including Hilton, Sheraton and Marriott, among others. In a separate deal earlier this month, Blackstone acquired ten Florida properties from MeriStar for $367 million. Blackstone is investing out of Blackstone Real Estate Partners V according to an SEC filing from MeriStar. The fund, which is still in the process of being raised, has a target of $4 billion.

RLJ Development in $1.7bn hotel deal
Bethesda, Maryland-based RLJ Development has agreed to acquire 100 hotels from White Lodging Services Corporation and its affiliates for approximately $1.7 billion (€1.4 million). White Lodging Services will retain management of the hotels, which are primarily composed of brand franchises including Marriott and Hilton. The hotels will continue to operate under the same brand affiliations. RLJ Development is controlled by Robert Johnson, founder of BET and owner of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats. The acquisition will make RLJ one of the largest Marriot franchisees in the United States.

Harrison Street backs student housing JV
The Preiss Company, the largest provider of offcampus student housing at North Carolina State University and Clemson University, has entered into a joint venture with Harrison Street Real Estate Capital. The joint venture will acquire and develop student housing complexes throughout the Southeast. The venture plans to acquire and develop a portfolio worth more than $100 million (€84 million) in the next 24 months. The first investment by the duo was the acquisition of the 130-unit University Club student apartment complex and surrounding property located in Charlotte, North Carolina. Led by former Heitman pro Chris Merrill, Harrison Street is a recently formed private equity real estate firm that intends to focus on specialty areas of the real estate market.

Oxford Lodging, Dubai acquire famed Chicago hotel
IOC Hotel, a joint venture between San Francisco-based Oxford Lodging and Longwing Real Estate Ventures, the US real estate arm of the Dubai Investment Group, has purchased the 357-room Inn of Chicago, a landmarked hotel near Chicago's Magnificent Mile. The new owners plan a multimillion dollar renovation of the hotel's lobby, guest rooms and meeting spaces in keeping with the property's “classic Chicago” architecture and theme. The property will be the first to be managed by Kokua Hospitality, Oxford Lodging's new property management arm.