Raleigh firm buys Bald Head Island ferry system in $67M deal

By Lauren Ohnesorge – Senior Staff Writer, Triangle Business Journal

May 31, 2022

Nearly 40 years after a businessman purchased Bald Head Island’s unsold land, a Raleigh firm is acquiring what remains of it – including the sole ferry system that connects the community to the mainland.

Raleigh-based SharpVue Capital has reached a deal with Bald Head Island Limited to acquire the remaining Mitchell family operations and associated real estate assets relating to the Island – including the ferry and tram system that connects to Southport.

The $67.7 million deal was disclosed Tuesday. Also included in the acquisition is the tug and freight barge operation and Deep Point Parking facility in Southport.

“We’ve assembled a group of investors specifically for this transaction,” said Lee Roberts, managing partner at SharpVue.

Bald Head Island is a ferry-accessed golf cart community just two miles off the coast. Of the island’s 12,000 acres, 10,000 have been committed to stay undeveloped. Texas billionaire George P. Mitchell purchased the island’s unsold land out of receivership in June 1983 and made a commitment to sustainability. That commitment included abandoning a developer’s plan to build a second golf course on the island and instead dedicate 200 acres as a preserve. The Mitchell family – George Mitchell died in 2013 – is also credited with the decision to forgo building a bridge to the mainland and instead rely on ferry access.

Bald Head Island Limited had previously planned to sell the ferry system to a state-entity that formed in 2017 to facilitate the sale of the assets. But there was pushback over the valuation of the ferry operation, which led to years-long delays for those plans.

Roberts said discussions about the SharpVue deal had gone on “for a while.” While SharpVue is known for traditional real estate investments, such as the $41.7 million flip of the commercial complex that’s home to the North Carolina Education Lottery, it has done infrastructure deals before. It was part of the Waste Industries transaction and has done waste water treatment deals,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he has a “lot of familiarity with Bald Head Island,” as the legislation that created the Bald Head Island Ferry Transportation Authority was pushed through while he was still state budget director under then-Governor Pat McCrory.

When the deal closes, nothing should change for ferry passengers. Roberts expects a “seamless” transition, as the current management team stays in place.

“Over time, we hope we can put into place some technological upgrades and operational efficiencies,” he said.

The deal closes in stages. Everything but the ferry and tram system should close “soon.” But the ferry and tram system, as they’re regulated, must meet the approval of the North Carolina Utility Commission.

Chad Paul, CEO of Bald Head Island Limited, did not return a request to comment on the deal, but did release a statement:

“The George P. Mitchell family established and grew these infrastructure operations and assets to aid the Island’s development and this agreement transitions them to a reputable and experienced owner and operator with deep ties to North Carolina,” Paul said. “Our team is committed to ensuring a smooth and seamless transition, for the benefit of islanders, employees and the greater community.”

SharpVue Capital closed its first real estate private equity fund after securing $72 million in total investment commitments back in 2017.

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Lee Roberts

Managing Partner

Lee co-founded SharpVue and leads its real estate investment effort. He has spent his 25+ year career in real estate investment and finance and has been involved in the sector in several contexts, including private equity, investment banking and commercial banking. Immediately prior to SharpVue, he served as budget director for the State of North Carolina, a role in which, among other initiatives, he led an effort to rationalize the state’s real estate portfolio.

Before his time in public service, Mr. Roberts was most recently Managing Director of Piedmont Community Bank Holdings, a private equity-backed bank investment platform in Raleigh. He was earlier a Partner at Cherokee Investment Partners, a real estate private equity fund in Raleigh, and he spent nine years with Morgan Stanley in London and New York, focused on real estate investment banking.

Education: Georgetown, JD; Duke, BA

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