Nola McNeally – Edgewood REIT
The acquisitions keep on coming for Edgewood REIT. There’s a medical office building in Wayzata, Minnesota, that’s just been added to the portfolio. Same for a couple commercial office buildings in Scottsdale, Arizona.
And while Edgewood usually acquires rather than builds, in the past year it has finished construction on a senior housing property in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and broken ground on a multifamily complex in Prescott, Arizona.
All of which has Nola McNeally practicing transactional, real estate and securities law as she nears her 10th anniversary as Edgewood’s general counsel. With a lean staff, she’s the only practing attorney for this North Dakota-based real estate investment trust with its multifamily, commercial and healthcare properties in 14 states.
“It’s been the best professional experience I’ve had,” McNeally tells Vanguard in February from Fargo headquarters. “I served a long time in private practice and the one thing missing was never seeing what transpired after a transaction closed. It’s so much more satisfying to be part of a whole project.”
Even more with Edgewood expanding its $2 billion-plus in real estate holdings. The commercial space in Scottsdale is among the exceptions, as Edgewood primarily pursues the smaller metro or tertiary markets in the Upper Midwest, High Plains and I-29 corridor. These areas are popular retirement destinations, as well as desirable places for anybody wanting close-knit communities.
In growth mode
McNeally says there are always purchase agreements for her to draft as acquisition team vets potential properties. Among the considerations: What are the terms of the lease for a property under consideration and is there flexibility? Is the cash-flow sufficient to reward Edgewood’s investors? Are there conditions that might make it difficult to sell this real estate in the future?
“We take very seriously our need to make wise acquisitions,” she says. “We don’t acquire simply to acquire.”
Once the vagaries of a transaction are resolved, McNeally works with the seller’s attorney and undertakes due diligence, land surveys, title searches and what-not. She then helps vet the parties who will operate or manage the facilities once the transaction closes.
Then there’s her role in communicating with shareholders and other partners. Though Edgewood is privately owned and managed, it’s subject to its own standards, as well as maintaining compliance with both federal and state Blue Sky Laws. Edgewood nurturing many repeat investors, McNeally says the C-suite has extra incentive to show transparency in all its dealings.
“We’re a very shareholder-focused company,” McNeally emphasizes. “Many of our shareholders are friends and family who have invested more than once.”
Helping sustain this model is part of leading Edgewood’s legal functions, which McNeally has done since August 2013.
She was quite familiar with Edgewood before joining the team, McNeally’s preceding role having been a three-and-half year stretch as a corporate lawyer with Fredrikson & Byron, an international firm with a Fargo affiliate whose clientele included Edgewood.
When one of her law partners and fellow graduates of the University of North Dakota School of Law, Jon E. Strinden, became Edgewood’s first general counsel, he beckoned McNeally to be his assistant. Strinden soon was promoted to president with McNeally succeeding him as legal boss.
For McNeally, it’s most rewarding to strengthen her foothold in North Dakota, she having been raised in the tiny town of Glen Ullin, 250 miles directly west of Fargo on Interstate 94. Just 24 students in her high school graduating class, she recalls, and where homespun values were spun.
She was somewhat of a latecomer in committing to her profession, six years passing between McNeally graduating the University of Minnesota – Moorhead with a degree in paralegal studies and enrolling at UND Law. Most of the interim spent as a paralegal, she was well prepared.
Upon earning her law degree in 2000, McNeally started her legal career in Minnesota at Dorsey & Whitney’s Minneapolis office – then transferring to Dorsey’s Fargo office where she remained for a decade. By now married to a man from North Dakota, the couple wanted to be closer to home, and Fargo offered the opportunity.
By North Dakota standards, it’s quite the metropolis—its 125,000 residents far exceeding Glen Ullin’s population of less than 1,000. Nevertheless, McNeally says Fargo is intimate enough to retain a neighborly ambiance. A self-described nonprofit junkie, she serves on the board of directors for The Cullen Children’s Foundation, and Dakota Medical Foundation, as well as the advisory board for Live-Like-Rach.
One daughter attends the University of Central Florida while the other is a high school junior. Like their parents, McNeally says both girls have benefited from a North Dakota upbringing.
“I’ve always told my girls, ‘Behave because you never know when you’ll run into somebody who knows me,’” McNeally says with a good-natured laugh. “Every place I travel, someone says: Oh, you’re from North Dakota. Do you know….?”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2023 Edition here.
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