From Boreal Community Media • March 10, 2022 

The newly formed Cook County Real Estate Fund (CCREF) is ready to provide information about the fund’s vision to potential investors which will outline the new partnership and the investment opportunities for real estate development projects across Cook County. 

Interested community members who want to learn more can attend upcoming sessions that the CCREF will be hosting.  To find out more, contact Steve Surbaugh at 264-0513 or via email at

Created in 2021, the Cook County Real Estate Fund is focused on making large scale impact investments in Cook County real estate to provide benefits to members of the Cook County community at large and returns for financial investors.

Boreal Community Media caught up with one of the CCREF partners, Steve Surbaugh, better known as the owner and general manager of Cascade Vacation Rentals in Lutsen.  Surbaugh gave an update on how they are attracting investors to the CCREF.

Boreal: What should participants in these sessions expect to learn?  What are the reasons you want potential investors to consider Cook County real estate?

Surbaugh: I think the real vision around the Cook County Real Estate is that communities have needs and often times communities have needs that are difficult to be met by individuals.  Sometimes those needs are better met by groups of individuals coming to together and doing things.  We know that you live in a richer community if there is reinvestment back into the community.  And there is always real estate related project that are difficult for an individual or small group of individuals to pull off.  

If you get a larger group together, that means more brain power, more energy, more funds and quite frankly, then you have a chance to pull of some of these projects that would otherwise never get off the ground.

Boreal: What are the benefits to the investor who wants to help our communities?

Surbaugh:  The whole philosophy is can we do these projects that would better the community and provide investor capital preservation in terms of the principal that is being invested.  And hopefully, provide a return down the road.  Our partners at REVocity have had pretty good success with that with projects in other communities in Minnesota.

Boreal: If I am a real estate developer, how do you help vs. traditional sources of capital such as local banks?

Surbaugh: In a perfect world, you’re still using local banks to fund local real estate projects.  But frequently banks – because of very important underwriting rules that protect their security – have limits on how much they can finance on any particular development project.  There’s a gap in the middle between the cash the developer wants to do the project and what the bank is willing to lend.  If the developer can find somebody who can provide that gap financing – which is called subordinate financing – a lot more projects can happen.  Without gap financing, a lot of projects quite simply stall out.  

So one of the roles the Cook County Real Estate Fund can play is to fill the financing gaps and that helps move all of the projects forward.  That’s not all that CCREF is going to do, but it can be an important piece.

Boreal: Tell us some more about the other activities you would consider.

Surbaugh: We’re also interested in doing projects that are standalone and owned 100% by the sponsors, that are worked on 100% by the sponsors or fund partners.  In a perfect world, ten years from now we would have a bunch of different projects that are in the works in the community.  It is a mix of gap financing, all the way up to fully funded projects that we in turn have sold off to somebody to operate.

Boreal: So the projects that you would fund would have an end game?

Surbaugh.  Yes there will be a built-in sunset for these projects at the end of seven years.  Whatever project we are doing such as a building project that we are going to fund, the fund will sell that off and return to the original investor their investment and hopefully, some return distributed on a pro-rate share of that investor.  So at the end of seven to ten years depending on when the projects sunset, you’re going to have an exit point for the investment you’ve made.

Boreal: Is their specific type of development projects you are targeting?  What type of developments would you prioritize for funding?

Surbuagh: I would say across the board, everyone in the group is interested in housing related projects. Even as a priority – housing related projects are difficult to make work from a financial standpoint without public money and public money is not the easiest to find. 

We also know there are needs with an office space shortage.  There are restaurant needs. There are retail needs in the community.  We’re willing to look at all of those types of projects. But I would say housing is something everyone is interested in – but we are not talking about lodging.  The question is how we make housing related projects work from a numbers standpoint.

Boreal: How will the CCREF interact and work with the Economic Development Authority? 

Surbuagh: Several in our group of partners are deeply involved with the EDA so the communication between the groups is strong.  There is some hope down the road we can support the EDA when it meets our mutual interests.

Boreal: Why would an investor consider CCREF vs. another real estate investment?

Surbaugh: I think this is a situation if you have some extra money available and you want your money going toward bettering the community, you have a chance to invest your money in making your community stronger and more vibrant.  Not necessarily by taking a hands on approach, but a way to make improvements in our community while preserving your capital and have a chance to get a return down the road as well.

The partners in the Cook County Real Estate Fund believe we can create real economic drivers by strengthening the tax base, promoting employment, and providing goods and services to stimulate business activities across the community.  We want to attract investors who share our passion for those type of outcomes.

Boreal: These three sessions are being held in Cook County.  But obviously not all potential investors work or live here.  How are you reaching out to investors?

Surbuagh: Right now, we’re focused on people who live here, who spend a significant amount of time here or who have done so in the past.  We’re having individual conversations because this is a new era, a new concept.  Right now, its just kind of a grass roots case by case scenario to bring the right people to the table.