Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carlyle's Love-Hate Relationship with Municipalities

The Carlyle Group is a tale of two city relationships.  Suburban Atlanta is the best of PEU times, while Missoula, Montana is the worst.  Cobb County, Georgia will put nearly $400 million toward the Atlanta Braves' new baseball stadium.

The proposed new stadium will cost $622 million, with $392 million coming from the public. That includes $368 million in bonds, $14 million in transportation sales tax and $10 million in cash from businesses in the Cumberland Community Improvement District.
The Carlyle Group leverages public money as well as anyone.  In this case Carlyle is leveraging location for a real estate deal.

Atlanta real estate company Atlantic Realty Partners recently paid $7.6 million for 8 acres next to the planned ballfield and mixed-use project, according to Cobb County records.

Atlantic Realty will develop more than 600 apartments. The first phase — a 5-story project with 320 units — would break ground this July and could wrap up by late 2015.

Atlantic Realty Partners formed a joint venture with Carlyle Group of Washington D.C. on the first phase.

Contrast this with Carlyle's convoluted position on its ownership of Missoula's Mountain Water.

The Carlyle Group claims it does not own Missoula’s water system and therefore cannot be named as a defendant in the city’s condemnation lawsuit, according to court documents filed by Carlyle’s lawyers on Tuesday.

The global investment firm is asking Missoula County District Judge Karen Townsend to dismiss it from the case, leaving Mountain Water Co. as the sole defendant in the city’s bid to force a sale of the utility under eminent domain laws.

Carlyle’s claim that it doesn’t own the water system seemingly contradicts that it would have to approve any sale of Mountain Water, as well as a 2013 letter from Carlyle Infrastructure managing director Robert Dove to Missoula Mayor John Engen indicating a willingness to listen to offers to buy Mountain Water. In the letter, Dove stated that “Carlyle Infrastructure is honored to be the ultimate owner of Mountain Water.” Carlyle ultimately rejected two city offers to buy Mountain Water in the past.

Carlyle’s argument to the court is based on the fact that Missoula’s water system falls under a tangled web of corporate ownership. Mountain Water owns and operates the water system, and is itself owned by California-based Park Water Co. Park Water and two California water utilities are owned by Western Water Holdings, and Carlyle Infrastructure Partners LP is the managing member of Western Water Holdings. Carlyle Infrastructure is a division of the global firm The Carlyle Group, which invests in public and private infrastructure projects and businesses.

In short, the essence of Carlyle’s argument is that although it owns the companies that own Mountain Water, it does not own the water system. And that means the city of Missoula has the right to sue only the direct owner of the water system, Mountain Water.

This isn't the first time Carlyle lawyers have offered absurd legal defenses.  They did so with LifeCare Hospitals after 25 patients died in their long term acute care unit in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.  Carlyle's crack legal team defended SemGroup's implosion with a puffery defense to angry investors.  This brings back memories of Carlyle's turning away from Carlyle Capital Corporations' reeking carcass. 

The only consistent principal is Carlyle will do what's best for itself, frequently at the public's expense.