Agassi Fund financed school opens in North Philadelphia


An Andre Agassi-funded initiative to find permanent buildings for charter schools nationwide has welcomed its first school.

The Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund joined in grand-opening festivities Tuesday for KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy, which accommodates underserved students in North Philadelphia.

It's the first investment for the Canyon-Agassi fund, which Agassi and Bobby Turner, chairman and CEO of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors in Los Angeles, launched in June.

The for-profit fund is designed to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to finance permanent facilities for charter schools nationwide. Startup charter schools aren't guaranteed classroom space or building funds, and many of them lease space in former warehouses or business complexes. Agassi's goal is to work with charter schools that rank in the top 10 percent for performance to retrofit or build environmentally friendly, permanent space. The fund is also helping charters arrange financing to buy the upgraded buildings through New Markets Tax Credits, tax-exempt bond offerings or money from the U.S. Treasury's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund.

"By financing school facilities, we are breaking down one of the biggest barriers facing charter school operators like KIPP Philadelphia Schools, and empowering these organizations to reach more students looking for alternatives to traditional public schools," Agassi said in a statement. "We are thrilled to be in Philadelphia today celebrating our first success story."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter also released a statement praising the fund and KIPP Philadelphia "for their commitment to education and to this community."

When Agassi announced the venture in June, the fund already had investors including Citigroup, Intel Capita and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.-based entrepreneurship think tank.

The fund could finance permanent space for more than 75 charters and up to 50,000 students nationwide. The partners have said they'll focus on markets with dense and diverse populations, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, the District of Columbia and markets in New Jersey and Tennessee. Las Vegas could be a possibility depending on the cost of land, Agassi told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in June, but the fund hasn't announced local charter plans yet. The fund will announce its second site, in Milwaukee, later this year.

Agassi, a Las Vegas native, built the $40 million Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in West Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.