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FORT WORTH-One deal’s signed and a second one’s pending to bring a pair of build-to-suit office buildings to the 1,500-acre Mercantile Center in North Fort Worth. The site’s still being prepped, but the first project should be rising in a month.

Origen Financial Inc. of Southfield, MI signed a seven-year, three-month lease for 40,000 sf of the 73,734-sf, class A project at the northeast corner of Interstate 35W and Sylvania Cross Drive, Ken Walter, first vice president in Dallas for CB Richard Ellis Inc., tells GlobeSt.com. Origen, a four-year park tenant, has until October 2005 to decide if it wants the balance, he says.

Brian Randolph, vice president for the locally based Mercantile Partners, estimates Origen’s build-to-suit will cost $5 million for the single-story, office/tech design. Keys are set to turn no later than March. CBRE’s Sean Goff, senior project manager, will oversee the development. Hardy McCullah/MLM Architects of Dallas is designing the project. Bob Moore Construction Co. of Arlington is the general contractor.

Origen’s present location is 27,000 sf of a 115,000-sf building at 3001 Meacham Blvd. Its neighbor, CitiGroup, is poised to grab the balance when Origen moves its national service center to the new building.

The Origen deal was in the market 18 months, coming out first as an 80,000-sf to 100,000-sf prospect and then going dark for nearly eight months. The deal came back as 40,000 sf with options, a package tailored to Mercantile Center since the location is within three miles of 60% of the employee base, the price was right and the option gave decision-makers about six extra months to fine-tune the expansion plan. Another 60 jobs are projected for the center, the main hub to a network that includes Atlanta, Sacramento, CA and Richmond, VA.

In early May, Origen launched an IPO with eight million shares of stock in a $64-million offering. The REIT’s Fort Worth operation services portfolios, provides manufactured home and land home loans plus acts as a call center and training facility. The Fort Worth expansion is getting underway in sync with Origen’s plan to originate and service loans for affiliates of Affordable Residential Communities Inc., the largest owner and operator of manufactured housing communities in the US.

Randolph confirmed talks are underway for a neighboring build-to-suit in same size range, but won’t say any more until the deal’s done. Mercantile Center’s five million sf of product on the ground represents a 40% build-out of the mixed-use business park. The park’s average office rent is $17 per sf plus electric.

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