SBA Bags Optasite

SBA Communications this morning announced that it has agreed to buy wireless tower company Optasite, which had raised over $125 million in private equity funding since 2000 (plus lots more debt). I’ve written about Optasite occasionally because it’s based just a few miles from the home office, and also because CEO Jim Eisenstein agreed to do our first-ever 5 Questions at peHUB. So a few notes about the deal:

* Optasite shareholders will receive 7.25 million shares of SBA common stock, which currently is valued at around $255 million (shares are up this morning). Normally I’m not a huge fan of all-equity deals from the seller’s perspective, but this is unrestricted stock in a very liquid company.

* The multiple return isn’t a grand-slam for later-round investors, based on a $130 million post-money valuation in late 2006 for Series C (no word on a Series D valuation from earlier this year), but is still strong in terms of cash-on-cash. The investors are mostly VC firms, but this really was a private equity deal complete with leverage (SBA will assume Optasite’s fully-drawn $150 million senior credit facility and some unfunded liabilities).

* The exit provides a track record boost to Jon Auerbach, who left Highland Capital Partners late last year in the aftermath of the Amp’d Mobile debacle. He is currently with Charles River Ventures. Ditto for Matt Newton, who led both Optasite and Amp’d for Columbia Capital. He’s still in place with Columbia, and has led a series of other tower-related deals.

* The sale is partially a reflection of the lousy IPO market. Sources say that had things been better, it probably would have hit Nasdaq. In fact, it already had advisers on board, although it wasn’t anywhere close to filing an S-1.
* Don’t be surprised to see Optasite management regroup at some point to form another tower company (possibly with similar investors). Senior Optasite management isn’t staying with SBA post-close, although they do seem to have non-competes in place (which are enforced here in Mass.). No word yet on how many Optasite employees will be kept on at SBA, if any.