AMERICAS NEWS: Setting the stage

After closing more than 20 deals over the past 18 months, the Rockpoint Group is set to launch its fourth opportunity fund, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Boston-based firm is expected to launch Rockpoint Real Estate Fund IV in the first quarter, with sources saying the vehicle would target a similar amount to its predecessor, Fund III, which closed on $2.5 billion in July 2007. Fund IV is expected to follow a similar strategy as Fund III, with the focus largely on US distress but with the ability to invest in Europe and Asia as well.

Rockpoint declined to comment, however, people familiar with the matter said the firm would look to raise equity from international institutional investors for the first time, as well as marketing to US investors. Among the firm’s existing LPs are the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Nebraska Investment Council, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, North Carolina Retirement Systems, Oregon Public Employees’ Retirement Fund, Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System and the UCLA Foundation, according to public pension documents.

The move follows an active 18 months for Rockpoint, as the firm predominantly focused on distressed US real estate deals. In November, it acquired the Milford Plaza Hotel in New York’s theatre district in a joint venture with hospitality investment company Highgate Holdings. The deal, valued at between $230 million and $240 million, would see the duo invest more than $75 million of additional equity for a complete renovation of the 1,300-room hotel – nicknamed the “Lullaby of Broadway” – following a sale by the Milstein family after its planned facelift of the property was put on hold.

The Rockpoint fundraising is the latest in a line of multi-billion dollar funds expected to launch, and close, this year. The Blackstone Group revealed last month it would start fundraising for Blackstone Real Estate Partners (BREP) VII in 2011, with its $10.9 billion predecessor vehicle, BREP VI, set to be fully invested within “a deal or two”. Blackstone president and chief operating officer Tony James said on an earnings call in February that BREP VII would target a similar equity haul as BREP VI, although he conceded: “It’s a tough fundraising environment, so there will be some investors clearly not able to do the size [they were] once able to do.”

Lone Star also is expected to hold a final close on its second dedicated real estate fund in May, with expectations that the vehicle could corral around $4.2 billion of equity. Meanwhile, it was revealed last month that Shorenstein Properties closed its Realty Investors Fund 10 on $1.1 billion of commitments less than one year after coming to market.