By Alyssa Stahr
Vertical Bridge Holdings, a privately-owned real estate investment trust focused on the ownership of wireless communication towers, is becoming one of the fastest growing tower companies under CEO Alex Gellman’s watch, thanks to a recent $400 million tower asset acquisition portfolio of iHeartMedia and the hiring of three veteran engineers.
According to Vertical Bridge, the transaction closed in Q1 2015 and gained Vertical Bridge approximately 2,000 revenue producing sites. With the acquisition of the portfolio came another chance to expand, and Dave Dybas, Gary Hess and Mark Stennett were brought on board to the broadcast tower team in September, April and February, respectively.
According to a recent announcement, Hess’ newly-created role as vice president of broadcast tower leasing charges him to oversee the growth and development of Vertical Bridge’s current portfolio of approximately 600 to 700 broadcast towers. Hess was previously the manager of the Clear Channel Tower Group (now iHeart).
“I came on in 2009, and I’m a broadcast engineer by background. Vertical started out in the deep part of the pool; they said they wanted to grow, and quite frankly, they’re on fire,” Hess said. “The acquisition is just stunning…what they’re doing every week. It reenergized me. This company is very aggressive; they get it.”
Stennett’s role as senior broadcast engineer was newly-created due to the iHeart acquisition. He brings more than 30 years of experience overseeing technical and operational activities related to broadcast assets and clients. He will also support making broadcast assets easily available to other types of clients such as wireless carriers.
“At the time I interviewed for the position I wasn’t certain that the company would be growing, and that seemed like a nice portfolio to take care of. Much to my pleasant surprise, they’ve been growing by leaps and bounds,” Stennett said.
Dybas also has more than 30 years in the broadcast industry with AM and FM radio, which helps with some of the towers located across the country, especially in the Midwest. He said that he is trying to convince some AM broadcasters who own radio stations on leased land that they have options.
“I’ve seen situations where AM stations have had their landlord come in and notify them that they’ve got 60 days to get off the property, and they are stuck with nowhere to go,” he said. “What they’re not aware of, and what’s sort of been a forbidden territory in the past, is the fact that some of the towers that Vertical Bridge has are well suited for an AM skirted antenna.”
Hess continued that he thinks that’s a key point as to what sets Vertical Bridge apart from the public tower companies. “We’re willing to go a lot deeper into doing these types of things. The other broadcast tower companies kind of push off when you start dealing with AM, especially combining. We’re open and willing to do it. We have three good engineers sitting at this table, and all of us have had that experience,” Hess said. “Broadcast tower leasing is really a specialization if you will. This industry is so robust right now that the other tower companies are happy with the low hanging fruit. There’s not much we can’t do when it comes to co-location across the board.”
Stennett said that the team is putting their heads together and are not afraid to be creative with new ways to leverage properties.
“In addition of being able to put AMs on traditional FM and cellular towers, we’re also looking at co-locating cell sites on AM properties. And we can co-locate multiple AM stations on a single skirted tower, so everybody benefits in that situation. You start to reduce the expenses for people,” he said.
So, what’s the difference between a cell phone tower and a broadcast tower? That’s a question for the ages, the engineers said. Stennett said that the differences are many and varied, and there are AM stations through TV stations, FM and in between with all different power levels.
“Some of them are less than your typical cell installation, but many of them are magnitudes greater in power, so you’ve got exposure that you have to pay attention to. It’s crucial to protect workers and the environment. In the case of most AM stations the tower itself is the antenna so it’s insulated above ground; it’s usually base fed with a lot of energy so adding anything to the tower or even climbing the tower requires special care and consideration,” Stennett said.
Now that Vertical Bridge’s mergers and acquisitions department is on fire, Hess sees something he hasn’t seen in a long time—a high growth company.
“Vertical is putting new life into our industry,” he said. We’re out to do a lot of things that haven’t been done before, and that’s what I like. That’s my wheelhouse.”
Vertical Bridge, founded in 2014, is headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla.