Fabricio Bossle, a partner in Sao Paulo-based private equity firm BZX Capital, had hundreds of commercial developments across the United States he could have invested $500,000 in last year while applying for a permanent visa through the EB-5 program.
But he chose Orlando City Soccer Club's new stadium construction project, calling it the closest thing to a slam dunk that investors like him have seen in years.
With a higher forecasted rate of return than most projects on the EB-5 market, the rarity of a revenue stream already proven over two years, and team owners putting up more equity than any project he'd ever seen, hotel and office tower proposals in bigger cities couldn't measure up.
"They're not only building a stadium, they're building a life center for Downtown Orlando," Bossle told GrowthSpotter in a recent interview. "The other big development projects I considered were just buildings. They would create jobs for two to three years during construction, produce a small number of permanent jobs and then likely be sold. I think this Orlando City stadium project is more sustainable."
OCSC is now almost a year into marketing a $49.5 million offering for EB-5 permanent visas to up to 99 foreign investors, the majority coming from soccer-enthused South America who recognize the club's Brazilian majority owner and star player Kaká, GrowthSpotterfirst reported May 10.
First introduced in 1990, the EB-5 program provides permanent residence to a foreign national and their immediate family, if they invest $500,000 or $1 million in a commercial project in the U.S. that creates at least 10 direct jobs. The new visas are capped at 10,000 annually.
In most EB-5 projects, a "special purpose company" is created that will disburse the invested funds to the development. In the soccer stadium case, that company will own a 19.8 percent stake in the stadium entity, with that 19.8 percent divided up among 99 individuals.
OCSC's soccer stadium is uniquely attractive to EB-5 investors because the club has already proven through two seasons that it has a strong, steady revenue stream.
Foreign investors face risk when committing their $500,000 to most commercial developments, because the client base and long-term success of that business hasn't been proven.
With the EB-5 regional center program pending expiration on Sept. 30, Congressional lawmakers are pushing for changes that could redirect investments to poor and rural communities, and increase the minimum investment amounts required of foreign nationals seeking an immigrant visa.
But OCSC's stadium will rely mainly on attendance for revenue with 25,500 seats, and the club has proven it can draw that many or more per game to Camping World Stadium.
"This project is 65 percent finished already, in terms of construction. Most projects go to market to start raising EB-5 capital from investors before the whole capital stack has been put together," said Gonzalo Lopez Jordan, managing partner with American Regional Center Group. "We're literally years ahead of other projects competing for the same investors."
Bossle didn't plan to invest in his new backyard, it just worked out that way. He moved to Orlando in 2014 with his wife and three children on a student visa, enrolling at Stetson University to pursue an MBA.
He worked previously on family visa applications with local attorney Carlos M. Colombo, partner at Orlando's Colombo & Hurd, PL. After experiencing criminal assault in Sao Paulo and fearful for his family's safety, Bossle called Colombo again to learn how he could pursue U.S. permanent residency.
EB-5 was his best option, Colombo said, a relatively straightforward application for a foreigner to prove the origin of their income and savings, if they're legitimate.
Bossle considered as many as nine EB-5 projects in markets like Chicago, Dallas and Washington, D.C.
The decision to go with OCSC's new stadium EB-5 investment was inspired by the tangible revitalization efforts being made by the City of Orlando in its downtown over the past few years, he said, and that the new soccer stadium would contribute to the valorization of an entire neighborhood of underdeveloped real estate in Parramore.
"From an immigration perspective, this stadium is the best EB-5 project we've had in Orlando to date, and arguably in the U.S. in recent years," said Colombo, whose firm has represented more than 30 foreign investor applicants to the stadium's EB-5 program.
Just as important was the rate of return projected for Bossle on his stadium investment, 2-3 percent annually, with a potential increase to 7 percent if he chooses to convert his $500,000 stake into long-term shares after four years.
Those rates were better than estimated returns from any EB-5 project Bossle was considering elsewhere in the country.
USCIS regulations require investors have an opportunity to gain on their investment, but they could lose everything just as easily if a project goes under. The typical rate of return on a commercial EB-5 project is 1-5 percent, skewed toward the lower end.
"I also got to meet Flavio (Augusto da Silva, majority owner of OCSC) early on, who is a public person and has good companies in Brazil," Bossle said. "He has invested a lot of his own money in this project, which put my mind at ease."
Developers with minimal skin in the game made Bossle nervous. They should for any foreign investor, following the news this year of Vermont and the Securities and Exchange Commission bringing charges against two resort developers accused of running a Ponzi-like scheme, mismanaging more than $200 million from 700 EB-5 investors.
In one Washington, D.C.-based commercial development Bossle was considering for his investment, little more than 5 percent of the developer's own equity was in the capital stack, he said.
In contrast, more than 60 percent of the Orlando stadium's estimated $156 million budget is being covered by club owners' equity, said advisor Lopez Jordan, with about 31 percent to come from EB-5.
Lopez Jordan declined to confirm how many millions of dollars have already been secured by the stadium project from EB-5 investors with applications under review by USCIS, but said there are close to 20 investors still working on the lengthy "source of funds" documentation process with their attorneys before applying.
Bossle filed his EB-5 application in September 2015, and USCIS is currently taking 12 to 16 months to review applications. He's confident a background will pass muster with the federal government, and that his family made the right choice betting on Orlando.
"We're enjoying life in Orlando a lot," he said. "We've made friends here, my daughters love their school and told me they can't imagine moving back (to Brazil)."