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Close-up: Van Tengberg

Veteran real estate attorney willing to take on any role for the team

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Van Tengberg is a self-described team player. And like all good team players, Tengberg is willing to play any -- or perhaps every -- position in which he’s needed.

So when Foley & Lardner executives were looking for a managing partner of its San Diego and Del Mar offices late last year, they called upon the veteran real estate attorney.

“I didn’t aspire to be managing partner,” said Tengberg, seated in a spacious conference room on the 21st floor of the firm’s downtown office. “It was put upon me. I said, 'Of course I'll serve,' because I want to help the team. Plus, I really do love the people in this office and the Del Mar office. They're really great people.”

It’s not the only administrative role Tengberg plays for the law firm.

He’s also co-chair of Foley’s national golf & resort industry team and is a regional vice chair of its national real estate practice group.

“There’s a new challenge all the time, and I like to be challenged,” Tengberg said. “I like to get out of my zone of comfort. Being on the management side does give you a unique perspective, as a lawyer, to some of the challenges your clients face. Many times lawyers don't have the business backgrounds or experience, so they're not always as empathetic to what business people are going through.”

Tengberg first gained managerial experience during his 20-plus-year tenure at Miller Boyko & Bell (now Ross Dixon and Bell) as each partner assisted in the administration of the small, local firm.

He moved to Foley & Lardner 3½ years ago so his thriving real estate practice could benefit from Foley’s national footprint. The firm boats more than 22 offices worldwide.

“It was really one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make,” Tengberg said of leaving his old firm. “But I needed the national platform because I do real estate deals all over the country. It was the smart business decision, and I'm very grateful I made the move.

“I worked very hard to make sure my relationships stayed in tact in the old firm and that the team of people I brought over were taken care of here at Foley.”

Tengberg, who recently assumed another new role – that of grandfather – rises early each morning and spends long hours juggling his various responsibilities. He credits his colleagues with shouldering most of the day-to-day administrative duties, which allows him to concentrate on more big-picture plans.

“I have great people that I'm able to delegate work to and to get involved … great lawyers who have a vision, who are excited, who are extremely talented,” he said.

While performing in his many management capacities, Tengberg carefully squeezes in time to devote to his practice.

“I still love practicing law, so I still spend as much time as I humanly can working on very exciting projects,” he said. “Both golf and resort and large scale real estate, office and retail projects.”

Tengberg, who has an LLM in taxation, works in acquisitions, development, joint venture partnerships with private equity and very sophisticated tax planning. He’s skilled at structuring projects in the most tax efficient manner, a key in real estate.

One of the current projects he’s working on is 32 Winds, a residence club-style concept in which members have access to several high-end resorts throughout the world.

The company running 32 Winds owns resorts in Aspen, Snow Mass, Napa, Cabo and Upstate New York. It plans to open resorts in Hawaii and either Florida or the Bahamas.

The initial membership fee is between $1.2 million and $1.5 million with annual dues in the $25,000 range. Membership includes 90 nights of overnight accommodations in any of their resorts as well as golf and ski privileges.

“It’s an exciting, exciting product,” Tengberg said. “It’s one of those career opportunities you get to work on (that) gets you excited every day to come to work.”

Tengberg and his team are handling the local land use approvals, securing permits and entitlements and the debt financing.

Residence clubs and “condotels” – condominiums that are used as hotels when the owner is away – are the popular choices for vacation homes, replacing timeshares, Tengberg said.

He also said the golf industry is seeing an infusion of money because golf is now a more attractive economic investment than retail, office or industrial.

As the West Coast chair of Foley’s real estate practice group, Tengberg handles and supervises all large real estate transactions on the West Coast. He conducts reviews, designs business plans and allocates work and reviews for the firm’s West Coast lawyers.

Tengberg, who is a Boy Scout leader, Sunday school teacher and baseball and soccer coach, has leadership roles outside the office as well.

He is a board member of San Diego’s Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Ten years ago, Tengberg started a Legends of Sports golf tournament, which annually honors local athletes who give back to the community. Past honorees include Dan Fouts, Willie Buchanan, Rolf Benirschke, Don Coryell and Bobby Ross.

“They’re great men, and they understand what it means to give back, to help others who have challenges and are less fortunate,” Tengberg said. “It’s a very special group of people we honor every year.”

The tournament raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, with 92 cents of every dollar raised for cystic fibrosis going to research, Tengberg said.

He also serves on the board of directors for the Sabin Children’s Foundation, founded by Gary Sabin, CEO of Excel Realty Holdings in San Diego.

The private foundation is dedicated to helping children around the world.

“We help communities and underprivileged areas, all directed at children, to give them some kind of normal life,” Tengberg said.

The group provides capital for other organizations, like Project Hope and Mothers Without Borders, helping them build facilities and get crucial resources.

“It’s a wonderful organization, and we work with great organizations around the world,” Tengberg said. “It’s also one of the most rewarding things that I get to do.”

Tengberg is able to use his position in the legal community to provide a connection between area businesses and the charities he helps out.

“You'd be amazed how many companies want to help,” he said. “You'd just be amazed how many good people in San Diego and good companies want to donate and want to be involved and want to help.

“You can't believe how many of these companies are bombarded, and how generous they are. Qualcomm is a great example.”

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