Attorney Prashant Ajmera is working as American Life’s marketing manager to help the company target South Asians.
SEATTLE — American Life Inc. has a strong track record of attracting foreign investors to the United States. Now, the company is turning its sights on India for the development of a new Marriott hotel in Seattle.
American Life is focusing its efforts on helping to redevelop the "old port" area of Seattle, which, due to rapid expansion in the downtown area, has become attractive again after being abandoned for several years. In 1996, the U.S. government gave approval to develop the area using EB-5 investor visas.
The EB-5 visa allows foreign investors to come to the United States for investing $1 million into a business and hiring 10 employees anywhere in the country; investing $500,000 and hiring 10 employees in an area where the unemployment rate exceeds the national average; or investing in a regional center.
Founded in 1996 by Henry Liebman, a Seattle-based immigration lawyer, and Ray Klein, a Japanese-based businessman, American Life has raised over $200 million in the last several years through EB-5 visas to convert Seattle's "old port" region from warehouses and old commercial buildings to new business properties. The company, which has a portfolio of approximately 30 buildings, has predominantly focused on investors from Asian countries, such as Korea and Japan.
"In the EB-5 world, which is a small world, we are probably the single biggest player," said Liebman, American Life's president.
According to him, when trying to raise money for projects the magnitude of American Life’s is the EB-5 visa is a great option. "It is one of the arrows you pull out of the quiver," he added.
With its foray into hotels, American Life is making its first targeted effort at attracting investors from India to the United States, well aware of the Indian-American community's dominance in the hotel industry.
The Marriott project, which will convert a vacant office building into a 15-story hotel, is also in a National Park Historic District. Liebman believes the project itself is very attractive to those interested in the hotel business. "A hotel was just the perfect use for [the vacant office building]," he said. "This hotel will stimulate the immediate area."
"This is a real deal on its own," he added. "The visa is extra."
The Marriott project will be a debt-free project in that all of the estimated $85 million budget will be raised by investors with no loan financing. According to Liebman, American Life is looking for a 50-50 split between U.S. investors and EB-5 investors. The company has already raised over $10 million and is generating about $1 million to $2 million a week, with 20 EB-5 investors so far, some of which are from India, he added. "It might take a year, but that is all right."
American Life plans to own the hotel property, but Marriott will manage it.
To focus on the Indian community, American Life is relying on Prashant Ajmera as its marketing manager. Ajmera is an Indian lawyer with more than 14 years of experience in the legal field, with several years of experience in Canadian corporate migration law and international trade. He spent five years of practice at the High Court of Gujarat, Ahmedabad, India, in the office of the Additional Central Government Standing Council.
Ajmera, who also worked as a partner with the Canadian Immigration law firm Brownstein Brownstein & Associates from 1992 to 2000, said that his familiarity with Indian law, as well as local languages — he is fluent in Hindi and Gujarati — is helping to boost the connection with Indian investors. Ajmera also emphasized that American Life's hotel project is a great opportunity, not just for coming to the United States, but also for getting in on the front end of what promises to be a revitalizing development in Seattle.
Liebman believes that India's similarity to the Western and U.S. business world makes it even easier to work with investors on the EB-5 visa. He added that with the Marriott project you can really see the effectiveness of the EB-5 visa at work — bringing in investment which might otherwise not materialize. "Maybe some investors might not get involved — but for the EB-5 visa — but it is still an investment they should be happy with," he said.
Liebman has a long track record in real estate in Seattle. Since receiving his law degree from the Puget Sound School of Law in 1980, he has worked in real estate law for over 20 years as managing partner of Coe Nordwall Liebman LLC and currently at Liebman-Mimbu PLLC.