Craig Hall illustration by Sean McCabe

The Year’s Biggest Real Estate Deals

These are the commercial projects and key industry players that stood out in North Texas.

The Dallas-Fort Worth commercial real estate market roared back in 2013, as companies and workers continued to flock to the area. DFW’s industrial vacancy rate hit an all-time low, office rents spiked to record highs, specialty grocers bolstered an already-active retail market, and the multifamily sector was on fire. Commercial real estate investors—including private, institutional, and foreign buyers—placed their bets on North Texas. And, after a five-year lull, construction got under way across the board, with many developers taking a speculative plunge. 

The number, size, and caliber of 2013 projects made judging D CEO’s annual Commercial Real Estate Awards program difficult, to say the least. But after evaluating hundreds of nominations, editors selected finalists in 11 categories, from Best Headquarters Deal to Developer of the Year.

The winners are profiled in this feature. Visit our commercial real estate news site, D Real Estate Daily, for in-depth stories and photos of all 41 honorees.

Real Estate Executive of the Year – Craig Hall, Hall Financial Group

Hall Financial Group chairman and CEO Craig Hall has had a profound impact on the Dallas region, pioneering new submarkets and development strategies. This was especially true in 2013, which saw the groundbreaking of the 16th building at his Hall Office Park in Frisco and new tower in the Dallas Arts District. 3001 Dallas Parkway will add 200,000 square feet to Hall’s 2 million-square-foot corporate campus in Frisco, which is nearly fully leased. When he first began developing on farmland north of State Highway 121 in the late 1990s, his decision to do so was roundly questioned, as was his move to incorporate millions of dollars worth of art. Last year, more than 331,000 square feet of leases—valued at $37 million—were signed at Hall Office Park. The developer first acquired his Arts District land in 1995; last year, he decided the time was finally right to build. The first 18-story, 500,000-square-foot tower began as a speculative project, but it was 60 percent preleased before construction began. Tenants include KPMG, Jackson Walker, and UMB Bank.  Future phases will take the value to more than $750 million. Beyond the impact of his real estate projects, Hall has quietly supported numerous local causes. He says he strives to balance profits with a desire to make a real difference in the community. “It isn’t the easy or fast way,” he says. “You have to have a longer vision.”

FINALISTS – Mike Berry, Hillwood; Steve Everbach, Cushman & Wakefield; Herb Weitzman, The Weitzman Group

Park Place: BOKA Powell's 2013 projects include Granite Park IV, a 300,000-square-foot office tower in Plano. Courtesy of BOKA Powell

Excellence in Architecture – BOKA Powell

BOKA Powell has no designs on becoming the world’s largest architecture firm. Instead, it focuses on bringing a hands-on approach to its work and maintains close relationships with its clients. Proof that it’s meeting that goal can be found by looking at a list of the high-profile projects the firm had under way in 2013. Among them: 8111 Westchester in Preston Center, home to Trevor Rees-Jones’ Chief Partners LP, and the new Perot family office along Turtle Creek. BOKA Powell also is working on new space for the Las Colinas Association, which is charged with continuing Ben Carpenter’s legacy of world-class development. Other 2013 projects included Granite Park IV for longtime client Granite Properties, the 500,000-square-foot expansion of Southwest Airlines’ Dallas headquarters, Alliance Town Center Office North for Hillwood, and Knoll Trail Plaza, a new office project in Plano developed by Bill Cawley. BOKA Powell’s reputation is such that many times the firm is selected without having to go through a competitive interview process. “Dallas is a city that is very conservative, but patrons want high design and sophisticated solutions,” says founding principal Don Powell. “They will hire best-of-class services from around the world. We are humbled by the fact that people consider us representative of their values, and also reflect the quality they’re seeking in design.” 

Staying Connected: An open stairwell connects two floors at Merit Energy's Dallas headquarters, designed by Gensler. photography by Joe Aker

Excellence in Interior Design – Gensler

Along with designing corporate space for Ericsson North America,, Merit Energy, and Satori Capital, among others, the Dallas office of Gensler took on two landmark interiors projects in 2013: the transformation of Reunion Tower’s event space and observatory (now known as GeO-Deck), and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. “Reunion Tower is such an icon, but with that comes a mystery,” says Judy Pesek, regional managing principal. “There were a lot of people who wanted to check it out, but that didn’t mean they wanted to have dinner there. We were able to create something more experiential.” Working on the Bush library was “extremely challenging, but also extremely exciting,” Pesek says. “The level of detail required on just the Oval Office was equal to a project 100 times the size.” Along with design excellence, Gensler works hard at being a good corporate citizen, too. Last year, for example, the firm led a community-wide initiative to determine what could be done with schools in the Dallas Independent School District that had closed due to budget cuts. The firm’s work resulted in the reopening of one school for a summer leadership program. Gensler also remodeled the Boys and Girls Club of Dallas.

FINALISTS – Staffelbach

Best Office Project – Kohl’s Department Stores Inc. 

Dallas real estate investors aren’t afraid to seize opportunities when they arise, and Waterview 190 is an example of just that. In late 2012, Ramsey March and Matt Wieser, co-managing directors of Stream Realty Partners, stumbled across a compelling office buy in Richardson. Stream partnered with Goddard Investment Group to acquire the loan on the property, then quickly foreclosed to assume control. “We saw a scarcity in supply of large blocks of space, and this one—in the heart of the State Highway 190 corridor, right across from the University of Texas at Dallas—made sense,” March says. Kohl’s Department Stores Inc. thought so, too, and in May 2013, it leased the entire 231,081-square-foot complex for a new shared-services operation. Kohl’s considered sites across the country. Dallas wasn’t the obvious choice, says Mitch Wolff with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. He and NGKF colleagues Peter Wirth and Dan Foster represented Kohl’s in its search. But after evaluating labor analytics and other factors, DFW came out on top. Waterview 190’s proximity to UTD made it a strong contender. Stream and Goddard also did a sale-leaseback on an adjacent property, and replatted about 4.5 acres to provide more parking for Kohl’s. The City of Dallas and Texas’ State Enterprise Fund stepped up with support. “It’s of tremendous value to the region, as Kohl’s will create 1,700 jobs and possibly well beyond that,” Wolff says. “It’s another confirmation that DFW is a great place to do business.”

FINALISTS Rightsource-Humana; State Farm (Lakeside campus)

Tower Power: About 100 potential buyers expressed interest in Thanksgiving Tower, a 1.4 million-square-foot office building in downtown Dallas. Courtesy of Thanksgiving Tower

Best Commercial Property Sale – Thanksgiving Tower

When Thanksgiving Tower hit the market, the 1.4 million-square-foot skyscraper at 1401 Elm Street attracted a lot of attention. About 100 different buyers expressed interest; more than 20 made written offers, says John Alvarado, who led the CBRE team that marketed the property. Woods Capital differentiated itself with a pitch that offered the buyer a lot of certainty—and a quick close. In fact, the time between contract and sealed deal was just 20 days. ¶ Shortly thereafter, the big news got even better, with Santander Bank leasing 400,000 square feet in the building for its new headquarters. “The meaningful story is not just the sale itself, but what it means to downtown,” Alvarado says. ¶ Woods Capital, led by Jonas Woods, is giving the 50-story skyscraper a complete infrastructure overhaul. It’s also revamping interiors and bringing in new amenities. “Thanksgiving Tower is a phenomenal building in a district that we think is really on the upswing, thanks to a lot of factors,” Woods says. “The city is supporting the renovation of old buildings and putting in necessary incentives behind them, and projects like Tim Headington’s conversion of The Joule are huge catalytic moves. We are a piece in what’s becoming a very interesting puzzle downtown.”

FINALISTS – Bell Helicopter Military Program Center; The Colonnade; Northfield Portfolio; Preston Oaks

Steve Van Amburgh illustration by Sean McCabe

Developer of the Year – Steve Van Amburgh, KDC

Even in a competitive market like Dallas, known as one of the nation’s top development hubs, KDC has found a way to stand out. In 2013, the company had eight commercial projects totaling more than 2 million square feet in varying stages of development. They included a new headquarters for Tyler Technologies in Plano, which involved repurposing a former YMCA facility; a new broadcasting and news center for NBC 5/KXAS-TV at CentrePort in Fort Worth; and, the biggie, CityLine, a 186-acre, $1.5 billion transit-oriented development in Richardson, anchored by a 2 million-square-foot campus for State Farm. (Initial plans called for 1.5 million square feet of office space; State Farm announced a fourth 500,000-square-foot addition in February 2014.) Upon completion, the insurer will have the capacity to house more than 10,000 employees at CityLine. ¶ The project’s first phase also includes restaurant, retail, and entertainment space; a 150-room hotel, 520 multifamily units, wellness and fitness facilities, a medical office building, and a 3.5-acre park. Steve Van Amburgh, KDC’s chief executive officer, is known for his inspirational, communicative leadership style, and for creating a team-like culture. For example, when KDC sells a building it developed, everyone  who “touched” the project, from receptionist to project manager, is rewarded. Putting others first pays off, Van Amburgh says: “It’s cool to me that after 20 or 25 years, that’s still the winning formula.”

FINALISTS – Lucy Billingsley, Billingsley Co.; Scott Krikorian, Trammell Crow Co.