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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 1 week ago

Bank backs development project with $664M loan

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Arkansas bank has increased its construction loan portfolio nationwide.

Bank OZK executives, when they acquired high-flying St. Petersburg-based C1 Bank — in a $402 million purchase announced four years ago this week — said they planned to make a big splash in the market.

The Little Rock, Ark.-based bank, which has steadily expanded its Florida presence since the C1 deal closed in 2016, recently dove into the deep end: It signed off on a $664 million loan to the developers behind Water Street Tampa, the massive redevelopment project in the works in downtown Tampa. Bank OZK officials, in a mid-October conference call with Wall Street analysts, said it was the largest loan the $22.9 billion-asset bank has ever done. 

“It meets all of our standards for a really large credit,” Bank OZK Chairman and CEO George Gleason said on the call, according to the transcript. “It is an incredibly exciting and well thought out and to be well-executed project based on what we've seen.”

The developer behind Water Street Tampa is Strategic Property Partners, a joint venture between Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment LLC and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. The 56-acre neighborhood is expected to contain more than 9.5 million square feet of new residential and commercial space worth some $3 billion when built out, and be among the most transformational urban projects nationwide.

The loan closed Sept. 24, according to Hillsborough County records. “SPP is taking advantage of favorable debt capital markets and the immense interest in Water Street Tampa,” an SPP spokesperson says.  

Meanwhile, Bank OZK, formerly Bank of the Ozarks until it rebranded under a new name last year, has become a national leader in construction loans — not only with Water Street Tampa. It’s approved multiple $100 million-plus loans for office and condo projects in New York City and Miami-area condo towers, according to The Real Deal, a New York-based real estate publication. Its real estate specialties loan group handled $7.34 billion in construction loans in 2018, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data, explosive growth from $93.6 million when the unit was formed in 2003.

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