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Starwood Hires MetLife's D.C. Acquisitions Head To Lead New Opportunity Fund

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Starwood Anthony Balestrieri
Starwood's Anthony Balestrieri, then with MetLife, at a 2018 Bisnow event

Starwood Capital Group is the latest major investor to launch a business focusing on the new federal opportunity zone program. 

The global investment firm announced Wednesday it hired Anthony Balestrieri  to lead its opportunity zone business, with a focus on the West Coast, Southeast and large cities such as New York City and D.C. 

Balestrieri comes from MetLife Real Estate Investors, where he served as director and head of acquisitions in its D.C. office. He previously served as director of acquisitions and development for Tishman Speyer

At Starwood, Balestrieri will lead a new business focusing on identifying and structuring investments in opportunity zones. The program created in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act offers tax benefits to investors who place money into a host of underserved areas throughout the country. Several firms have launched funds to invest in opportunity zones, including CIM Group last week announcing a $5B fund. 

Starwood is seeking to raise $500M to invest in opportunity zones, Bloomberg reports. Starwood said it has 58 properties currently located in opportunity zones, and it plans to focus its spending on markets where it has a large real estate presence. 

"We believe Anthony will be a great addition to our talented professional team as we capitalize on the market opportunity to build our Opportunity Zone investment portfolio and continue to deliver attractive returns to our investors," Starwood Head of Real Estate Acquisitions Christopher Graham said in a release. 

Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht, in a November interview with Bisnow, criticized the program in the context of Amazon's Long Island City campus, saying it was not fair that the tech giant could benefit from opportunity zone tax breaks. 

"It's in an opportunity zone, so they'll never pay taxes on the building and land," Sternlicht said. "I find it abhorrent. I think it's just awful. It's like a free headquarters. Why doesn't somebody give me a free headquarters?"