Ardent Financial has kicked off fundraising for its latest bridge-loan vehicle earlier than expected and added four seasoned pros in a bid to capitalize on rising demand for commercial real estate debt investments.

The investment manager originally planned to start raising about $500 million of equity for Ardent Financial Fund 5 in the fourth quarter. It opted instead to launch the capital-raising campaign in late August amid a marked increase in investors seeking debt opportunities versus investments tied to equity stakes in commercial properties.

Debt is being viewed as a safer bet amid widespread concerns about rising interest rates, inflation and the economic impact of the war in Ukraine. Those factors also have fueled rampant capital-market volatility over the last six months, constraining lending by banks and commercial real estate CLO issuers. That, in turn, has created additional financing opportunities for fund shops.

Ardent’s new staffers started last month. Managing director Jennifer Wimmer, director Peyton Knisley and senior associate Grayson Jacobs report to managing director Christopher Kelly, head of loan originations. Director Monica Ortego works under managing director Michael DeGance, who oversees fundraising and investor relations.
Knisley is based in New York, while the other hires joined Ardent’s Atlanta headquarters.

Wimmer handles loan originations and asset management. She spent the last three years at Atlanta-based Access Point Financial, where she was a director focused on asset management and special servicing. Before that, Wimmer worked at iBorrow, Rialto Capital and SunTrust Bank.

Knisley, who concentrates on originations and underwriting, was previously a senior associate at Ruben Cos. Prior to joining that New York firm in mid-2021, she spent about three years at HUBB NYC Properties. Knisley previously worked at DHA Capital and Cushman & Wakefield.

Jacobs joined Ardent as an underwriter. He previously was an associate at New York-based iStar and Safehold, a ground-lease REIT managed by iStar. Prior to joining iStar in 2013, Jacobs was a senior underwriter assistant at Builders, an Atlanta-based insurer.

Ortego focuses on fundraising and client services. She had been vice president of operations at Skyfire, a Marietta, Ga.-based consulting firm that focuses on the use of drones for public safety purposes. Before joining Skyfire in early 2019, she spent almost two years as an investment analyst at Stan Johnson Co., a commercial real estate brokerage and advisory firm that on Aug. 31 announced a deal to sell to Northmarq.

Ardent is on track to write $400 million to $500 million of construction and bridge loans this year, up from about $330 million last year. Loans range from $5 million to just under $100 million but tend to be $25 million to $30 million.

With leverage, Fund 5 should have at least $1 billion of lending power. Ardent closed in March on the final round of equity for Fund 4, which raised $363 million and uses a similar amount of portfolio leverage. About 85% of that vehicle’s capital has been deployed.

For Fund 5, Ardent is targeting a return of 10% to 13%. Like its predecessor, the vehicle will charge a 1.5% management fee on invested capital. After the preferred return to investors reaches 8%, the manager is entitled to 20% of additional profits.