Alabama’s first Opportunity Fund to advance and positively impact Alabama communities
Opportunity Alabama is thrilled to announce the creation of The OPAL Fund — a Qualified Opportunity Fund formed to invest in projects that meet expressed community needs and build wealth for those traditionally underrepresented in investing.
The OPAL Fund was formed to invest in real estate projects that target market rates of return, engage minority and woman-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) in development and management, and create better communities across Alabama.
Who We Are and How We Got Here
When Opportunity Zones (OZs) were finalized in mid-2018, they did not come with an instruction manual. In Alabama, we decided we needed one — and, thanks to generous support from partners like the Alabama Power Foundation, the Regions Foundation, Protective Foundation, and others — we created Opportunity Alabama, a 501(c)(3) organization to help close the access to capital gap for Alabama’s Opportunity Zones.
Opportunity Alabama works with three primary stakeholder groups: communities, project sponsors and investors.
- For communities, we help identify and scale quality projects through a program called the Rural Recovery Accelerator.
- For project sponsors (like developers or business owners), we provide technical assistance on structuring deals and leveraging Opportunity Zone capital.
- For investors, we connect capital to Opportunity Zone projects across the state and provide value-added technical assistance necessary to help get deals closed.
Over the past three years, our work has resulted in over a dozen closed deals in both rural and urban geographies representing over $300 million in new investment in Alabama. These range from a senior care facility in Heflin and a restored hotel in Selma to workforce housing and nonprofit space in Birmingham.
This work has won Opportunity Alabama national recognition. In 2020, Opportunity Alabama won the OZ/20 Catalyst Grand Prize, an award given by Forbes to recognize the top-performing, impact-oriented OZ community groups and investors in the U.S.
Despite all of this, we saw how much local investors and funders needed a professionally managed, sustainable vehicle to route them to Opportunity Zone deals across the state. To build that vehicle, we needed a partner with experience in real estate and operating business investment — and a deep commitment to community impact.
Building the Infrastructure
After a national RFI process, we found that partner in Blueprint Local, a fellow OZ/20 Catalyst Challenge finalist and one of the largest impact-oriented Opportunity Zone investment platforms in the country. One principal, Ross Baird, founded and ran Village Capital, and has been a leader in bringing capital to entrepreneurs and communities as an Innovator-in-Residence at Kauffman Foundation. Another principal, Justin Ferira, has an extensive track record in commercial real estate investing, as both an LP investor and a GP developer, totaling more than $3 billion in funded or developed deals.
This partnership also led us to Lindsay Edwards, a Montgomery, Alabama native with over two decades of investment experience (including stints at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan). As our new Chief Investment Officer, he helps underwrite our Alabama pipeline of commercial, residential, and industrial opportunities.
Together, we started to identify our first potential projects. By the end of 2020, we had enough underwritten pipeline in place to begin raising capital for our first fund — The OPAL Fund, co-sponsored by OPAL Advisory (a registered investment adviser subsidiary of Opportunity Alabama) and Blueprint Local, with a targeted “proof of concept” first close of $10 million.
Announcing The OPAL Fund — and Defining Our Objectives
As of March 2021, we closed that initial round at just over $13 million — $3 million above our target. Our initial accredited investors range from large corporations and foundations to family offices and individuals with capital gain events. The OPAL Fund is a Qualified Opportunity Fund that carries tax benefits for those that invest eligible capital gains. However, the majority of our accredited investors have invested non-gain dollars based on the combination of the forecasted return profile the Fund provides and the impact we believe we can create in Alabama’s communities.
That impact thesis has two core components — (1) at the fund level, access and wealth creation, and (2) at the deal level, meeting expressed community need.
At the fund level, we believe The OPAL Fund can grow both wealth and access for Alabamians, particularly those from historically underrepresented backgrounds. We’re working to accomplish this goal in two ways.
First, we are building a network of accredited minority investors. Our intent is to build relationships among these investors and help them create wealth through The OPAL Fund — enabling them to reinvest that wealth as a syndicate (or individually) into their communities.
Second, we are building a statewide network of scalable minority/women-owned businesses that touch real estate development, and we’re working with our project sponsors to meaningfully engage within this network. At a broader level, we are also connecting this network to our minority investor network — and, in the process, creating a new ecosystem that could drive community-oriented investment across Alabama in the coming years.
At the deal level, we believe The OPAL Fund can help each Alabama community achieve its unique local objectives. We will not underwrite a deal — let alone invest — unless we know it has the support of local leaders and stakeholders focused on the neighborhood in which it sits. Because of our deep relationships with each community, we have a clear sense of their local priorities. Additionally, through a partnership with Shift Capital, we work with project sponsor teams to better align their site program with these local objectives, leveraging our Opportunity Fund to make deals that were already good for the community even better.
As The OPAL Fund grows, it will enable Opportunity Alabama to expand its existing predevelopment work on community-oriented projects in rural and urban Alabama, creating a pipeline for the next round of The OPAL Fund investment. This “flywheel” effect has the potential to drive economic development in low-income communities across the state for decades to come.
It will take all of us working together to help The OPAL Fund succeed. If you want to get engaged, here’s how:
- Tell us about your project. If you have a real estate development project in an Opportunity Zone that fits the parameters we described above, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Become an investor. If you are an accredited investor who believes in the work we are doing, send an email to email@example.com.
- Come work for us. We are currently hiring for an analyst position that would support all the work described above (and help us spearhead some new initiatives). Send your resume and cover letter to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
Special thanks go out to those that got us here — Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration, and all of our partners. We’d never be where we are today without you.
Alex Flachsbart is the founder and CEO of Opportunity Alabama, and one of the principals behind The OPAL Fund. He is a native Californian (but naturalized Alabamian) and a recovering corporate attorney who practiced in tax credit and economic development. Prior to law school, Alex taught high school mathematics in rural Lowndes County, Alabama as a part of Teach for America’s charter corps in Alabama. He is an Alabama Leadership Initiative Fellow and currently sits on the board of Main Street Alabama.