Article written byTeddy Nykiel of the Milwaukee Business Journal.
With a stylish new downtown Milwaukee office, a growing team and an expanded pipeline of projects, Milwaukee Bucks player Pat Connaughton‘s real estate development firm Three Leaf Partners has been scaling its impact beyond its roots in single-family home flipping.
Three Leaf Partners has around a dozen projects in southeast Wisconsin that are in the works at various stages of development, including 55 apartments near Downer Avenue in Milwaukee, more than 400 rental housing units proposed in Hartland and a 175-acre mixed-use project in Janesville that would include a hydroponic greenhouse.
In addition to its local development efforts, the firm is also pursuing projects in Michigan, Texas, South Dakota, Arizona and Georgia, Three Leaf Partners president John Ford said.
“We’ve just looked at how we can continue to grow and scale,” Connaughton said recently in an exclusive interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It’s been fun to see it grow.”
Now with 17 employees, Three Leaf Partners moved into a new office near Milwaukee’s Deer District earlier this year.
“Opening an office down here kind of shows, we’re here to stay — whether I’m on the Bucks for the next 10 years or whether I’m on the Bucks for the next year-and-a-half,” Connaughton said. “We’ll always have our office here, it’ll always be a place that I come back to, it’ll always be a place that we work out of both for Three Leaf and for my foundation.”
In the summer of 2022, Connaughton signed a three-year contract extension worth a reported $28.5 million that runs through the 2025-’26 season. He was a 2022 Milwaukee Business Journal 40 Under 40 winner.
Three Leaf Partners’ bread and butter is multifamily development. It’s currently building 39 apartments on East Capitol Drive in Shorewood that are slated to be completed this summer, and it partnered with Milwaukee’s Mandel Group on a 141-unit apartment building in Walker’s Point that opened in December and is 96% leased, Ford said.
Other Three Leaf projects in the works in Kenosha, Grafton, Mequon, Saukville, Slinger, West Allis and South Bend, Indiana.
Three Leaf Partners has around 125 investors, around half of which are professional athletes, Connaughton estimates. The firm’s investors include other Milwaukee Bucks players and coaches, other basketball players in the U.S. and overseas, and some NFL and MLB athletes, he said.
Rather than raising a fund from investors and using it to finance deals, Three Leaf Partners allows investors to choose individual projects they want to invest in, Connaughton said.
“Guys get to see all the projects that we’re looking at and they get to say, ‘I like that one because it’s in Shorewood and I drive by it every day.’ (or) ‘I like that one because it’s in South Bend and I love the college town idea,” Connaughton said. “Everyone invests for different reasons.”
The list of Three Leaf Partners investors constantly grows through word of mouth, Connaughton said. He enjoys helping other athletes understand real estate investing and get involved with it — particularly since professional athletes have a limited amount of time to play and earn money through their sport, he said.
CJ McCollum, who currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans and was previously teammates with Connaughton on the Portland Trail Blazers, is among the pro athletes who have been public about investing with Three Leaf, Connaughton said.
Connaughton, who grew up helping his dad on construction sites, originally founded his real estate company as Beach House LLC and got his start flipping houses. He rebranded to Three Leaf Development in 2020.
Much of the firm’s momentum has come since January 2022, when Three Leaf Development joined forces with Catalyst Partners, the development arm of Milwaukee’s Catalyst Construction, to form Three Leaf Partners.
Connaughton and Catalyst Construction CEO Matt Burow had gotten to know each other through the industry, and Burow was looking to differentiate Catalyst’s development projects from its construction work, Connaughton said. Around the time of the Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Championship win in the summer of 2021, they discussed joining forces.
“We just had an honest conversation of like, ‘We can both probably be successful in our own lanes with what we’re trying to grow, but what can we really accomplish if we do it together?’” Connaughton said.
Since partnering and growing the combined development firm, Three Leaf Partners now has 17 total employees, including Connaughton and Burow, up from around six employees between the two companies before.
Catalyst Construction remains a separate company and while Three Leaf Partners often uses its services, Three Leaf also works with other construction companies, Connaughton said.