The Cherrytree Group
Each year brings new sunshine and a few storms, and 2022 was no different. Our experiences from year to year can vary but the challenge is always the same: how prepared are we to navigate these unexpected storms? And what can we build during the moments of sunshine?
It’s funny how a year can seem long and short all at once. In the end it usually feels like things happened in a flash, so we as a team find it important to reflect on the year and acknowledge everything that happened — good and bad — in order for Cherrytree to grow and to be ready for another year of unpredictable storms.
The small turtle…
Going into 2022, we at Cherrytree felt we had a great plan for the year — along with a sense that the uncertainty of 2020 had left us. We increased the number of our staff to a whopping seven employees (for those unfamiliar with Cherrytree, we are considered by some standards to be a “small business”). To me, however, seven employees was the most we had in the seven years I have been with the group, so it felt tremendous. It was especially great since we had incoming work that would require all hands on deck.
…Eating the Big Berry
Even though we might be a small firm, we always set huge goals. Yes, we had our core clients: those “another year, another tax credit fund” investors with whom we work to save on their obligations to Uncle Sam. (By the way, what better way to lower your taxes by investing in renewable energy, environmental clean ups, historic building rehabilitation, or low-income housing? Don’t worry, there will be no more pitches in this post!) But our biggest goal was to close a solar tax credit fund in 2022 that included not one but two publicly traded companies.
Despite Cherrytree’s relatively small size, we had worked with some of the biggest developers in the U.S. on our brownfields tax credit projects, but not yet on a solar tax credit venture. Our experience has taught us that these large corporate transactions require a large portion of our time and resources…so this was to be our biggest solar test yet. We passed it with flying colors, thanks to a marvelous display of in-office teamwork.
We were presented with another tall task when we were asked to offset one of our clients’ tax liabilities using a unique opportunity zone investment blended with tax credit acquisitions that would also provide a higher-than-average cash return. Given the complexity of structure and a tighter-than-tight time constraint, one would understandably expect that this would require a NASA supercomputer to structure. Luckily, we have the brain of our CEO: Warren. His numbers worked, and the deal was successfully closed.
Meanwhile, we still needed to execute our brownfields tax credit filings, appeals, and transfers through what seemed like an eternity of uncertainty with the ever-changing regulations. Oh wait, don’t forget about handling the compliance for our funds from the previous five years!
Let’s also add into the mix our return to in-person conferences and meetings to replace those impersonal zoom calls. We were all happy to be seeing industry colleagues again — aside from a somewhat late realization that we needed to fine-tune our people skills!
A Brownfield Engine on Overdrive
After years of somewhat confusing guidance from the regulators, Cherrytree successfully restructured all of its brownfields deals to comply with new state regulations. We felt blessed to receive multiple “100% approvals” and to have all of our pending credits from prior years fully realized. As well as seeing our credits approved within 30 days of filing — something I haven’t seen in my seven years working on brownfield credits. This was all happening at a perfect time to ease some of the other burdens over the first two quarters of the year.
In the end, Cherrytree was able to fund six solar projects across the country including one in Puerto Rico, for our biggest solar developer yet. We really enjoy working in this sector, as we feel this is the future of our industry, the country, and the world. We are thrilled to assist enlightened developers in realizing their objectives.
Stops Along the Way
We decided to make a journey around the country to see our colleagues, teach others about our business, and learn about other related businesses. We started our travels in our backyard of Massachusetts, headed down the street to Rhode Island and Connecticut, flew down to Florida, then out west to Colorado and California. How wonderful it was to once renew old acquaintances and make new ones, and to share ideas about the newest ideas and strategies in the tax credit world.
Yes, it was smooth sailing all year. Just kidding. Cherrytree couldn’t call it a full 12 months if everything went perfectly to plan. If there is one thing this little boat can do, it is to navigate through some serious storms. These are tough experiences…but they do teach us the most.
The storm began with some frequent thunder and lightning in the form of supply-chain issues which threatened a project’s 2022 placed-in service-date. We navigated our way to the eye of that hurricane for a short burst of sunshine before dealing with the backside of the storm: managing investors, internal reorganization, and overcoming deal structuring issues.
These tempests weren’t much different than others we have weathered, and the swift and nimble Cherrytree team was able to make it out with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises.
The founder and CEO of Cherrytree, Warren Kirshenbaum, artfully guided us through another year; always finding ways to fix problems. Warren has accomplished so much in his long career, but this year his talent and wisdom was most obvious in the form of a masterful delegation of duties. He possesses a gift for nudging employees into positions where they can succeed. There is a thrilling sense of purpose when we are trusted by our CEO with responsibilities that few other financial services CEOs would be willing to surrender. It instills in all of us a mission for teamwork and mutual accomplishment.
Joe Ogonowsky is the youngest employee at Cherrytree, but has shown so much maturity and growth in his two years with us. Joe was promoted to Senior Associate at the beginning of the year: an acknowledgment of his capabilities and the faith the company has in his abilities. Joe did not disappoint: spending many nights and even weekends working with Warren to make sure everything was prepared correctly for our clients. Joe closed his first investor this year and worked to implement new internal procedures which we believe will provide added efficiency for years to come. In sports terms (Joe’s first language), he was our first-round pick and has lived up to the hype.
I’ve always found it difficult for me to talk about myself, so I will keep this short. This year I was promoted to Vice President, I feel honored to be given the promotion and can thank Warren and Melina for the support. This year also brought with it my first speaking opportunities at two different conferences. Brownfield acquisitions are a group effort here, so I can’t say this is my accomplishment alone, but we were able to get out our entire backlog of brownfields tax credits while continuing to file new submittals. On a personal note, I became engaged and am looking forward to our wedding next year!
Finally, I saved one key Cherrytree player for last, because who would want to follow her list of accomplishments? What a year it was for our very own Melina Ambrosino.
To start the year, Melina was promoted to President of the Cherrytree Group. Well-earned: through hard work, dedication, and an uncanny business sense. Melina also held a board member role for a key non-profit industry organization: the Brownfield Coalition of the Northeast. She took her role very seriously and joined a committee tasked with organizing their largest-ever event and first in-person event since 2019. Melina spent extra hours organizing and putting together BCONE’s most successful conference ever. Her efforts were widely recognized, as later in the year she was elected president of BCONE for 2023. Also in 2023, Melina was invited to speak at multiple conferences and seminars. She even had several news articles written about her! Throughout it all she continued to be the main contact for Cherrytree Group’s clients and a leader inside and out of the office.
Over a decade ago, when the Cherrytree Group was very young, we were once described by a client as a small turtle trying to eat a big strawberry. And that was very true, for we were trying to establish ourselves in a world dominated by big businesses and old-school ways. The Cherrytree difference is what I love about the company: nimble and personal, strategic and quick-thinking, often in the face of long odds.
We are a resilient bunch; working under the guidance of great leadership. We will continue to learn from previous years and continue to implement new knowledge and skills. Each year will bring us ups and downs, and we will be ready, our little ship will be ready.
On to 2023!
Jake brings extensive planning skills and vision to the Cherrytree Group. As vice president, he joins Warren and Melina in developing and administering strategic planning for both the short- and long-term. He uses his expertise to identify eligible tax credit opportunities, as well as helping to secure Brownfields Tax Credits — always with the goal of saving Cherrytree’s clients tens of thousands of dollars.