SouthernSun Asset Management, a research-driven investment management firm, has launched new Real Estate Opportunity Fund.

SouthernSun Asset Management has also integrated all of the firm’s operations onto the SouthernSun platform with former management team of Mercury Investment Management.

Earl Blankenship, co-founder of the Mid-South office of CB Richard Ellis and former president and CEO of Mercury, will lead the company’s real estate investment strategy. In addition, Jim Dorman, Stuart Harris and Garrott McClintock will join the team SouthernSun platform.

The fund will seek to acquire financially distressed office, multi-family and retail assets in mid-market urban centers at discounted prices resulting from deteriorated market conditions.

The real estate team will oversee the management of the assets to stabilize and improve rental income and ultimately to sell into improving capital markets at non-distressed pricing.

SouthernSun founder CEO and CIO Michael Cook said that Earl’s ability to identify undervalued commercial real estate assets will meaningfully diversify and maximize value from the SouthernSun platform.

“More specifically, his addition to the team allows us to: 1) leverage our firm’s high-quality human capital, 2) diversify SouthernSun’s product offering with a non-correlated asset class and 3) capitalize on the burgeoning distress in the commercial real estate market. Moreover, by assimilating his team to focus on real estate, our existing equity investment team remains focused entirely on our core business, which is investing in our Small Cap, SMID Cap, and Focused Global strategies,” Cook said.

Blankenship said that the experience in managing workouts and restructurings for distressed properties in mid-tier markets provides a unique and often overlooked niche opportunity.