By the numbers

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Safe to say, not many locally based dealmakers have the firepower or contacts to line up $1.5 billion, even in the best of times.

A company that’s run out of the third floor of the Peoples Building on Broad Street does.

Charleston Greystar Real Estate Partners proved it was up the task Monday, when it announced it’s shelling out that exact amount for 27 apartments with 8,000 rental units in seven major markets around the country.

The numbers are big and impressive.

But the deal has an added bonus, a back story more than 20 years in the making that brings full circle the cyclical nature of real estate.

Even the Boeing 787 plant in North Charleston makes a cameo appearance.

Grubstake

Bob Faith is the founder, chairman and CEO of Greystar, which owns and manages more than 200,000 apartments and is developing the Elan Midtown project on Meeting Street in downtown Charleston.

The Oklahoma native earned a petroleum engineering degree and planned to follow his dad into the oil patch business.

The energy bust of the early 1980s sidetracked that ambition, so he applied to and was accepted at Harvard Business School.

As a newly minted MBA, he fell into real estate and started selling and leasing commercial property for Trammell Crow Co., a big Texas-based developer and landlord.

He thrived and became the youngest partner in the firm’s history. But he quit Crow in 1991, when the real estate business was reeling from the savings and loan crisis and a faltering economy.

Faith and some Harvard classmates formed Starwood Capital Partners to seize on the “tremendous opportunities because of all the chaos,” he told The Post and Courier a decade ago.

Armed with a fat credit line and the backing of some wealthy families, they scooped up bargains at government-run foreclosure sales.

Starwood Capital quickly amassed 7,200 apartment units and reaped a huge profit after selling them to Chicago-based Equity Residential Properties as part of that company’s initial public offering.

“It was good day for me. That gave me the grubstake, if you will, to start Greystar,” said Faith, who moved his 20-year-old business to Charleston from Houston around 1998 for family reasons.

Climbing the charts

Since then, the firm has moved up the national growth chart and is now ranked as the largest privately held apartment operator in the country.

Along the way, Faith briefly dipped his toe into state politics by serving as South Carolina’s secretary of commerce from 2003-06 under then-Gov. Mark Sanford. The biggest blockbuster of his term was recruiting Vought Aircraft Industries and Alenia Aeronautica to Charleston International Airport, a 2004 deal that later evolved into Boeing’s 6,000-worker 787 campus.

More than five years back in the private sector, he and his partners, including Goldman Sachs & Co., “remain very bullish on the apartment industry overall.”

One of the players on the other side of Greystar’s latest acquisition is one of the more interesting characters in the real estate business: Sam Zell, who’s known as the “Grave Dancer” because of his fondness for risking money on written-off businesses.

Zell is the chairman and founder of Equity Residential. He was at the helm back in the early ’90s when his company provided Faith with his Greystar grubstake.

This time around, Faith is the buyer. The deal got rolling easy enough.

“I picked up the phone and started talking to the guys I knew there,” he said.

Needing cash to do another deal, they were happy to reciprocate.

Contact John P. McDermott at 937-5572.