Crow Co. gets back into development? Sort of

On the northern edge of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Trammell Crow Co. has started work on its first speculative project in six years, a 227,000 sq. ft. multitenant warehouse.

But don't be fooled into thinking the big Dallas-based real estate company is about to return to its old ways (as some published reports suggested), says Crow Co. president James Carreker.

"The question we are continually asked is if the Trammell Crow Co. is going to go back into development," says Carreker. "The answer is we are doing development of real estate, but we are doing it for other principals than ourselves. It would be wrong to think that the Trammell Crow Co. is back into developing for its own account."

Five years after the Crow Co. downshifted its nationwide commercial building machine to focus on third-party services, Carreker wants everybody to know the company is still firmly committed to the strategy.

"We're trying to take our service business to the next level", he says. "We still see a lot of properties that are under-operated and know that if we can manage them, we can create value."

At the start of 1995, Trammell Crow was still the country's largest. commercial property manager, overseeing more than 230 million sq. ft. in 3,093 buildings.

The Crow Co. manages assets valued at about $12 billion, and the company represents some 300 outside owners.

Last year, Crow Co.'s service revenues added up to about $185 million and the company's net income totaled $25 million.

Carreker, who came to the Crow Co. last summer from the Crow family's Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, is only the company's third CEO and is the first head of the firm who is not a builder.

Before joining Wyndham, Carreker was an officer with Federated Department Stores. The fresh perspective has been a plus, he says.

"I don't see my role here as much as needing to be the builder as being the steward for the company," Carreker says. "I want to see that we are focused as a business."

In 1995, that means expanding the company's brokerage and facilities management operations, as well as consolidating some of the Crow Co.'s far-flung regional operations.

And yes, Crow Co. hopes to do more build-to-suit and other commercial development, Carreker says.

"What everyone wants to know is when are we going to be developing for ourselves again," he says. "We're not there yet. We are not trying to get there."

The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport warehouse Crow Co. is building will be owned and funded by one of the Crow family's investment trusts.

The company also plans to remodel and expand some of its existing properties built during the 1980s boom, like the Caruth Plaza shopping center in North Dallas. The 15-year-old retail strip has been partially demolished and will be expanded.

"Redevelopment is a popular thing right now, especially in retail," Carreker says.

Crow Co. has seen a dramatic rebound in real estate activity in many of the more than 30 markets the company serves, Carreker says, adding, "Business is getting a lot better.

"Day-by-day and week-by-week," he says, "you can see it turning. As occupancies are improving, the mindset is changing."

To take advantage of changing conditions, Carreker says Crow Co. is tailoring each of its local operations to the market. "We are in the same core businesses in almost every market, but it's a case of degree," he says. "We provide whatever services are in demand."

To augment the company's operations in some regions, Crow Co. has acquired a series of independent companies across the county. These recent purchases include Brandon Co. in Florida, PrimeWest in Phoenix, Riley Pearlman in Los Angeles, Palmer Group in Chicago, Iliff Thorn in Denver and Noble Realty and Advantage Realty in Detroit.

"We bought into the people," Carreker says. "We liked their business and their approach. It let us leap frog up to critical mass in those markets."

Crow Co. is also continuing to expand its corporate services work. Even though the nation's economy has improved, Carreker doesn't see an end to the outsourcing that began several years ago.

"The best companies are saying that they are going to stick to their core business and hire somebody else to handle the real estate," he says.

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