Bank of the Ozarks Having a Hot Time in Chicago

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 12:00 am  

George Gleason, CEO of Bank of the Ozarks, says he sees “every credit” before approving loans on building projects. (Karen E. Segrave)

Steve Daniels, a senior reporter with Crains Chicago Business, reported last month on how developers of Chicago's "splashiest commercial real estate projects" are getting their loans and financing from an inconspicuous source: Bank of the Ozarks of Little Rock.

Daniels spoke with the bank's CEO George Gleason about the amount of risk being taken to fund nearly a billion dollars worth of commercial projects in the Windy City.

The Arkansas lender has locally based competitors chattering privately about its being willing to “stretch” to beat larger rivals or ones with local relationships.

Gleason is forceful in rebuttal. “We never reach,” he says. “We are very conservative. If someone says we reach on a transaction, I think that’s very unlikely. I see every credit.”

Of about 3,000 real estate loans the bank’s commercial real estate team has made in the past 14 years, two resulted in losses, he says.

Where Bank of the Ozarks unquestionably takes risks is in its exposure to single projects. It almost always is the sole lender on a deal that even massive banks like Chase will ask other banks to share in. Bank of the Ozarks is the sole financier of the $203 million loan just announced for the 76-story One Grant Park apartment tower, 1200 S. Indiana Ave., developed by Miami-based Crescent Heights. It also is supplying the entire $233 million loan to John Buck Co. to construct CNA’s new building at 151 N. Franklin St.

You can read the complete story in this week's print edition of Arkansas Business or online at Crain's Chicago Business.



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