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FORT WORTH-Hallmark Financial Services Inc. has decided to bunk part of its Dallas staff with the commercial insurance operations in Fort Worth, signing an eight-year lease for 27,808 sf of class A space at Carter Burgess Plaza in the CBD.

There is no intention of relinquishing the premier office space in the Princeton Building at 14651 Dallas Parkway in North Dallas although the headquarters officially changes cities, the tenant’s reps emphasize to Hallmark Financial started scouring the Fort Worth CBD’s available stock about four months ago, says Rob Shepherd, managing director in Dallas for the New York City-headquartered Julien J. Studley Inc. The decision was down to sublease or retool the insurance operation’s existing space to accommodate the corporate staff.

Crescent Real Estate Equities Co., as owner of Carter Burgess Plaza, sweetened the deal to keep the Hallmark Financial name on the door. “Basically after evaluating the market and very good options, Crescent made a compelling case for them to stay in the building, says Shepherd, who represented the tenant along with Studley’s Greg Biggs, southwest region vice president and Dallas branch manager, and Craig Wilson, associate.

Call the deal aggressive or even creative, but it really just boils down to street-savvy negotiations to hold onto a tenant, formerly Millers General Agency Inc., which has been in the building about five years. The new lease neither adds nor subtracts to the bottom line of the 10th floor office.

The move from Dallas will take place in stages, with Crescent making “swing space” available during build-out, Wilson says. The first construction stage gets underway in about a month and should wrap up in six weeks. Then, construction will ramp up on the second half of the office. Shepherd says three finish-out contractors are in the running for the job.

Crescent’s leasing manager Whit Kelly represented the building owner, the Crescent Real Estate Funding I LP. For Crescent, the deal keeps the city’s tallest building, the one-million-sf- Carter Burgess Plaza, at 92% occupancy.

Hallmark Financial Services primarily sells property and casualty insurance products, mostly in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. In December 2002, Hallmark acquired some subsidiaries and other assets from Millers American Group Inc. The deal included the Carter Burgess tenant, Millers General Agency, a Texas managing general agency, which effectively was bought from Millers Insurance Co., an indirect subsidiary of the parent firm. The buyout expanded Hallmark’s services to include commercial insurance lines and non-standard vehicle insurance while adding Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to its coverage territory. In January, Hallmark acquired another subsidiary, Phoenix Indemnity Insurance Co., based in Arizona, in a move to give Millers Insurance the wherewithal to reorganize and re-capitalize.

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