Pension plans invest in Cleveland projects

Building trades pension and health and welfare funds are targeting Cleveland as a market where they can invest in a construction project, create jobs for trades members and help their funds secure a good return on their investment.

The latest Cleveland area project to receive building trades pension financing is the $56.9 million Church & State mixed-use project in Ohio City

The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust (HIT) agreed to direct the proceeds of a $43 million bond issue created by the federal Government National Mortgage Association as a first mortgage on the project. It was the largest piece of the project’s financing package.

In exchange for financing the project, developers Hemingway Development agree to use a Project Labor Agreement, which will create 300 jobs for affiliated members of the Cleveland Building Trades over the 18-month project timeframe.

Dave Wondolowski, Executive Secretary of the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council, played a key role in making the investment happen, as he invited Hemingway Development to a building trades sponsored Investment Roundtable. During that event, Hemingway became interested in how the trades could help finance the project.

In the weeks and months following the roundtable, Hemingway and HIT worked on putting the deal together.

The Church & State project follows several other projects that received pension fund investments. The Employee Real Estate Construction Trust Funds, or ERECT Funds, put $13 million into the $116 million, 20-story One University Circle residential complex in University Circle. ERECT also provided a $9.6 million subordinated bridge loan to convert the former East Ohio Gas Building into 223 luxury apartments now called The Residences at 1717 East Ninth Street.

“We are not your grandfather’s building trades unions,” Wondolowski said in a recent Crain’s article about the pension funds investing in local projects. “We have a robust capital strategies program that is very enticing for developers today.”

Wondolowski told Crain’s that developers are now coming to the unions early in the development process because of the variety of financing options their investment funds offer.

The variety of investments options have helped to make them popular. Among the investment options available to the developers are senior debt, subordinated debt, mezzanine loans, equity, construction loans, bridge loans and others.

According to Wondolowski, the area’s developers have shown more interest in using pension fund money. This is a strategy being pushed nationwide by North America’s Building Trades Union.

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