Close Up With White Oak Realty Partners
Like kids in a candy store, real estate execs are often plagued by an inherent need for more. At White Oak Realty Partners, they’ve managed to balance that with quality of life (and avoid those pesky stomachaches).
Wisconsin alum Rick Blum (right, on the firm's 9th floor patio) got into real estate early. His stepfather was a developer, and an undergrad course with renowned professor James Graaskamp fueled that passion. After getting his MBA in real estate finance at DePaul, he got a crash course in underwriting with a correspondent mortgage banker, followed by a taste of shopping center and apartment development with Banbury Development. (It's the whole real estate smorgasbord.) He met Steve Fifield on a Banbury/Fifield JV, and sent him a letter after the crash of ’92, when Steve needed an acquisition specialist for Fifield’s pivotal Civic Opera deal. His move to Fifield Cos kicked off the start of a 15-year partnership that launched him in a new direction—from finance guy to well-rounded investor/developer.
Tom Saletta (left), an Indiana grad, worked for P&G out of college but didn’t like living out of a suitcase. Contacts at Old St Pat’s Church got him connected to Jerry O’Malley, who taught him the landlord rep business. He met Steve and Rick while leasing the Civic Opera Building (below) for Frain Camins & Swartchild, and joined the team after Fifield acquired the property in ’94. Rick hired Chris Lynch (center) to join the team as an analyst in ’05. A Cleveland native and Boston College grad, Chris worked at BofA in real estate capital, then co-managed a $1B fund for RREEF. (Who says three musketeers have to meet at bars or in college?)
Rick (snapped indoor skydiving at Bisnow's recent Escape event in Vegas) attributes White Oak’s founding to a series of triggering events. His daughter was born in ’06 and diagnosed with cancer in ’07, irreversibly changing his perception on how he wanted to live the rest of his life—a true balance of work and family. After the downturn, he stayed at Fifield to help Steve work out stalled condo developments (no losses or guarantees called). Then in 2010, he made the move, founding White Oak with operating partner and childhood friend Michael Alter. Tom and Chris came over soon after, creating the three-legged stool that’s launched four years of fun, family, and stellar deals.
What put White Oak on the map: 700k SF Central Park of Lisle (above). They bought at the bottom with Angelo Gordon ($85M capitalization), and just sold to Blackstone for $116M. The firm picked up the almost half-empty Columbia Centre property in Rosemont in ’11, doing a major renovation and boosting occupancy to over 90%. (Those will go on the market soon. Yes, they’re right by The Park At Rosemont and the outlet mall.) On the development side, White Oak’s doing 350-unit Arkadia Tower (plan below) with CA Ventures in Greektown and has 625 W Adams ready for between 350k SF to 500k SF of office in a JV with Alter (they’re hunting for an anchor tenant). Along with a $75M development project in Clayton, Mo., White Oak is also eyeing a pair of downtown buildings for repositioning.
Some takeaways from the trio: only deal with good people, life’s too short; stay nimble and be selective with deals; and make sure you’re adding value at work and at home. As evidenced by the firm’s holiday party, a bowling extravaganza with their families at Pinstripes, all three guys are family first. Rick enjoys tennis and paddle, and does a big trip with his wife every two years (they did Rome and the Amalfi Coast in October). Tom’s in Rick’s paddle league, skis (he’s headed to Vail in a week), and is shocked he’ll have two in college next year. Chris loves spending time at his in-laws' home in Northern Michigan and will probably be coaching his little ones’ soccer teams for the next decade.