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Commercial Real Estate

Wayne Swearingen: The 72-Story Story

This September Bank of America Plaza will celebrate its 30th anniversary. Here's how the tallest building in Dallas came to be built.
Wayne Swearingen
Wayne Swearingen

Recent news articles document the current Dallas building boom in residential, multifamily high-rise, and office spaces. The last time we experienced such a boom was in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. Most of that was in downtown Dallas and Las Colinas, where I once counted 33 construction cranes at one time. The crane became the new Texas “state bird.” Now the boom is in Richardson, Plano, Frisco, and Uptown.

In 1988, the Texas boom became a bust, led by crises in energy, banking, savings and loans—and by commercial real estate overbuilding. Texas was hit worst. Sure that history will not be repeated, as lenders are much more cautious today.

Bank of America Plaza
Bank of America Plaza

I was very involved in the crowning jewel of the 1980s boom, known today as the 72-story Bank of America Plaza but known first as InterFirst Plaza. The story began in the in the fall of 1980s. I received a phone call early at home (before email, of course, when people talked to each other) from my friend Elvis Mason, the new chairman of First National Bank’s holding company. He asked if I would act as a consultant to the bank on real estate matters, as there were too many developers on the board. I had previously represented the bank on the purchase of 411 N. Akard St. At the time, I had 18 years of real estate experienced. When I finished the assignment in 1985, I was an old pro.

Downtown was moving away from the West End toward the Republic National Bank Building (now Gables Republic Tower) to the east. One night, while sitting in the stands at a Highland Park High School football game, I studied the Dallas skyline and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a really tall and significant tower on the west side of the central business district—one that could bring life back to that area?”

Growth had been moving east since 1971. The building height restrictions, because of Love Field traffic, were lower on the east end of the city. I checked, and found that on the west end, the height limit was more than 70 stories. I could see the building in my mind. Gears started turning.

In a few days, I was on a plane to Toronto to meet with Ken Field, chairman of Bramble Ltd., who has purchased the remaining Main Place land from Clint Murchison. I delivered a 16-point letter to Field, outlining the bank’s requirements, including, “It must be the tallest building.”

Banks loved tall buildings. After five days of negotiations, I returned to Dallas with the the basic deal points agreed to.

The rest is history.

The lease was made for 450,000 square feet, and the ownership joint venture was formed with Bramalea, InterFirst, and Prudential. All of this took another 18 months. In 1985, the 1,750,000-square-foot building was named InterFirst Plaza and was 72 percent leased. It opened to much fanfare with its famous green-outline lighting.

This September, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the most prominent tower in Dallas, now known as Bank of America Plaza.