FORT WORTH-After seven years of wading through hard times and bucking advice to sell, Crescent Real Estate Equities Co. and Vornado Realty Trust will debut AmeriCold Realty Trust as a REIT in the coming weeks. There’s no word just yet if the newly merged and streamlined operation will go public.

John C. Goff, vice chairman and CEO for the Fort Worth-based Crescent, says the AmeriCold REIT plan quietly got underway in late 2003 and will wrap up by Nov. 18, the deadline for folding a separate logistics company into the real estate end of the operation and simultaneously closing a $145-million sale for 20.7% of the emerging company to Yucaipa Cos., an 18-year-old private equity fund with an aggregate $14.6-billion transactions history.

Goff says Yucaipa brought the buy-in opportunity to the JV. The upcoming merger and REIT structuring “enabled us to get a deal done with them…at more than what ‘the Street’ ascribed to this investment,” Goff tells “We now have more value than our investment.” The Fort Worth-based Crescent, the 40% stakeholder in the JV, will have recaptured more than half of its $300-million initial investment in AmeriCold when the deal closes, according to Goff. The 60%-owner Vornado, headquartered in Paramus, NJ, is sitting with a comparable return.

From Goff’s perspective, the Yucaipa buy-in is a coup. “I always thought it offered more upside than the industry analysts gave it credit for,” Goff says. “Getting an entity like Yucaipa really validates the company.” For previous story, click here.

The Los Angeles-based Yucaipa American Alliance Fund I LP deploys equity into mid-size US companies with significant upside potential. It targets transactions in the $200-million to $1-billion range that require equity stakes of $25 million to $250 million. Its founder and managing partner, Ron Burkle, structured the merger of Fred Meyer Inc. and Kroger Co. He holds the majority shareholder status in Golden State Foods, the primary supplier for McDonald’s Corp., sits on boards of KB Home Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. and partners with Mario Lemieux as owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Yucaipa holds controlling interest in Alliance Entertainment Corp.

With the deals pushing toward closing, Goff says the JV can now go back to searching for a replacement president for the Atlanta-based AmeriCold. Earlier this year, its top-ranking executive Alec C. Covington exited after a three-year run to reshape the climate-controlled operation into a logistics stronghold. Yucaipa, an expert in the AmeriCold’s specialty industry, will oversee day-to-day operations until a top man is picked.

The 87-property portfolio contains 17.5 million sf in 32 states. “I’m confident with the portfolio the way it is,” Goff says. “But this does set up an autonomous organization with the ability to grow and to attract new capital. There are all kinds of opportunities here.”

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