Monday, August 18, 2008

Dallas Owners Lining Up to Woo Winstead's HQ

DALLAS-With brokers panting on the sidelines, top-ranked law firm Winstead is going shopping for a new headquarters office after spending nearly three decades in the same Downtown high rise. The request for proposals will hit the streets in four to six weeks.

The search will probe all options: staying put, existing high rises and to-be-built towers. The constants are location--Downtown or Uptown--and space efficiency for the 293-member team, boasting 140 attorneys, in Dallas, one of seven offices in the state. The 198,000-sf office in Renaissance Tower at 1201 Elm St. spans floors 45, 46, 53, 54, 55 and 56, the class A building's penthouse. The current 10-year lease expires in 2012.

Leading the search is the CB Richard Ellis team of executive vice president Phil Puckett, senior vice president Chris Hermann, senior associate Michelle Donaldson and sales assistant Harlan Davis. The team was up against Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. and Jones Lang LaSalle in the best and final.

Puckett tells that space and market analyses will be done in few weeks, allowing the RFP to go out the door and set the stage for a best and final by mid-2009 "at the latest." To plant the firm in a new building, he says the deal must get into the market. "2012 is driving our schedule," he emphasizes. "For a new building, that's right on target. The timeline we're on is very important if we're going to look at new buildings."

In most cases, occupants of older spaces can glean 10% to 20% efficiencies when planning starts, according to Puckett. Given the rental rate difference in the past decade, right sizing can translate to considerable savings. "If you can right size and get efficiencies, it can offset a high rental rate cost," Puckett says. "That's what we're seeing in the law firm moves to Uptown. They're shedding a lot of space."

Puckett says it's important to move quickly so Winstead has plenty of choices, particularly if it wants new space. He estimates that Uptown's 1.9 million sf of under-construction office buildings already are 63% preleased.

Winstead is one of the largest law firms in Texas, with 300 attorneys and a 330-member support staff statewide. Image, employee retention and bottom-line savings are underwriting the shopping orders in Dallas, according to a CBRE press release about its newest client.

The battle to keep the Dallas office is sure to get dicey as its building owner, New York City-based Moinian Group, dons boxing gloves to duke it out to hang onto the powerhouse tenant. "The market will be very aggressive. The market talks so everyone is aware of this coming up," Puckett says, hinting that there's already been knocks on his door. "It's going to be front and center and we're proud to be part of it."