Nordic adventure

Niam, the largest specialist private equity real estate firm in northern Europe, has appointed a new chief executive.

Stockholm-based private equity real estate firm Niam, which has bought €2.8 billion ($3.6 billion) of property since its creation in 1998, has recruited Johan Bergman as its new chief executive officer.

The 16-year Skanska veteran is credited with helping Skanska increase turnover at its commercial property development unit with operations in Budapest, Prague and Warsaw, and with increasing development volumes within its residential development division.

He quit his post in August and will take over running Niam, whose most recent fund, Niam III, has up to €2 billion to invest and is concentrating on properties with significant development potential.

The private equity real estate firm was the first to launch a property fund in Sweden. Niam I was launched in 2000 and was promptly followed up by Niam II. The two funds have invested in €235 million of residential property between them. Along the way, the company has formed joint ventures with real estate investment giants Morgan Stanley, GE Capital Real Estate, and Goldman Sachs Whitehall Funds.

Its third fund, Niam III, was launched two years ago and has invested around 50 percent of its approximately €2 billion war chest in seven properties and portfolios located in Stockholm, three in Finland and one in Latvia, all with a combined value of €870 million.

Its highest profile project is a SEK 2 billion hotel (€217 million; $280 million) hotel, conference and office complex development in Stockholm to be completed by 2010. Niam III is carrying out the project with Cargill Value Investment and Jarl Asset Management on the site of the Klara Postal Terminal building which the trio bought earlier this year. Hotel group Rezidor SAS has agreed to locate its flagship Park Inn hotel and conference brand at the site.

Niam is currently run by three managing partners: Per Johannesson, head of finance and acquisitions; Hakan Blixt, head of transactions; and Urban Ehrling, head of investment management. Birgitta Andersson, chief financial officer, is also a member of the management group. Bergman will report directly to parent group Stronghold, which also owns runs a property advisory group, Newsec, and an online information service, Datscha.

At Skanska Bergman was one of four executive vice presidents who shared responsibility for 15 business units. Bergman headed up commercial property development in the Nordic countries as well as Central Europe.

Goldman merges real estate teams
Goldman Sachs is expanding its real estate business by merging its lending and advisory teams. As part of the changes, Zubin Irani will head up lending while Andy Richards heads up the advisory and mergers and acquisitions team. That team already tops the league tables so far this year, with $15.7 billion (€20.3 billion) of advisory deals under its belt according to Thomson Financial. Both teams are overseen by Ed Siskind, the European head of Goldman's Whitehall Funds since 1999. Richard Powers has been named co-head of Whitehall in Europe. Irani is a former chief financial officer at Whitehall.

Benson Elliot adds new director
Benson Elliot Capital Management, the private equity real estate firm recently launched by former Doughty Hanson Real Estate head Marc Mogull, has appointed a former Lehman Brothers vice president and director as partner. Leopoldo Andreis de Gregorio will spearhead investment and management activities in Italy. The Italian has been working for the past six years as a senior Lehman executive in the country, where he led more than €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) of deals.

Cummings moves to advisor role at Carlyle
American private equity firm The Carlyle Group has appointed Daniel Cummings as a senior advisor for international real estate investments. Cummings, who is Washington-based and joined the company in 2000 as managing director focused on property and new product development, will help find real estate investments and develop new vehicles in Europe, Asia and other regions. Cummings joined Carlyle from global real estate investment management firm, LaSalle Investment Management, where he worked for 20 years and had managed a $22 billion (€17 billion) portfolio of public and private real estate investment activities in North America and Europe.

JER shops for European retail director
JER Partners, the private equity investment arm of JE Robert Companies, has bolstered its retail investment team in Europe with the appointment of James Bury as director of European retail investments. Bury joins from Henderson Global Investors, where he worked as director of European retail investment for eight years. He will focus on acquiring retail property across the Europe with JER's US partner, First Washington, and will be one of four acquisition directors in the London-based office.

Maes jumps to Rockspring
Rockspring Property Investment Managers, the investment management company, has appointed Carl Maes as European director. Maes, who joins from Merrill Lynch, is focusing on real estate private equity, pan-European opportunities and alternative and emerging property asset classes. Rockspring, which has €5 billion ($6.4 billion) under management in 15 European countries, was formed in 2004 through a management buyout of PRICOA Property Investment Management.

West Coast trumps Permira
A consortium including Bank of Scotland and West Coast Capital's Tom Hunter has bid €1.4 billion ($1.8 billion) for McCarthy & Stone, trumping a recommended offer by Permira and Barclays Capital. The board of McCarthy & Stone, a UK retirement homes builder, has withdrawn its earlier recommendation of the Permira offer in favor of the revised bid. The Hunter consortium's previous attempts had stalled given that Permira's agreement included a £10 million break-up fee and precluded McCarthy & Stone from offering a similar arrangement to rival bidders.

Atlas makes first European acquisition
Atlas Capital Group has snapped up an office building in London in its first European acquisition since the US alternative asset manager was formed earlier this year. In participation with Lehman Brothers, it is buying Cannon Bridge House, located directly above Cannon Street station in the financial center of London, for $385 million (€298 million) from the Fordgate Group. Atlas was started in March by two former executives at UBS, Jeffrey Goldberger and Andrew Cohen.

GIC buys tallest office in Munich
GIC Real Estate, the property investment wing of the Government of Singapore, has bought Munich's tallest office building from US developer Hines in a deal worth more than €300 million ($384 million). The 38-story property at 50 Georg-Brauchle-Ring, also known as the Uptown Munchen Tower, is one of two properties GIC is buying from the American developer. The other is 56/58 Georg-Brauchle-Ring, which is part of the same five-building complex that Hines completed in 2005.

Cordea bags Swedish trio
Cordea Savills has sealed a deal to buy three Swedish retail properties on behalf of Europa Immobiliare No.1, an Italian-domiciled commercial property fund, for €40 million ($50 million). It bought the trio from Sveafastigheter, a private equity firm focusing exclusively on real estate investments. Located in Nacka, Gövle and Köping, the properties have a combined rental space of 32,200 square meters. The fund has already purchased office buildings in Rome, Milan and London; logistics and residential accommodations in Italy; and a leisure park in Greater London.

British health and fitness chain limbers up for sale
Esporta, the British health and fitness club chain, is being circled by private equity firms and property investors. Majority owner Duke Street Capital has already considered an approach reportedly worth up to £500 million (€743 million; $955 million) from London & Regional Properties. The fitness chain, which was created in 2002, has also been approached by Blackstone and Apax Partners. In response, it has appointed Citigroup to conduct an auction. The property portfolio of Esporta is estimated to be worth around €440 million while the operating business is priced at around €230 million.