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RICHARDSON, TX-Seeded by $20 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, Countrywide Financial Corp. plans to close the first leg of a $200-million investment in a 496,480-sf campus by year’s end to jumpstart an expansion with 7,500 more jobs for North Texas. The deal is being touted as the single largest job expansion in the US in four years.

The Calabasas, CA-based lender’s top executives say the Dallas/Fort Worth plan isn’t a signal that Countrywide plans to substitute the West Coast headquarters with Texas…at least for now. Countrywide’s president, whose firm occupies about 1.1 million sf of corporate and support space in six California cities, declined to give a firm answer about a possible headquarters move at yesterday’s press conference, but did say the Richardson campus–constituting three of the four office buildings in Galatyn Office Park–is destined to grow as will the number of executives who will be based there.

The $200-million investment over six years is an all-in cost for the state, including for acquisition of the class A, three-building campus from Prudential Real Estate Investors of Parsippany, NJ, and an abutting 16.7 acres from Nortel Networks Inc. of Toronto, the complex’s build-to-suit tenant since 1997. The price tag includes interior renovations to gut and rebuild the space.

Countrywide started talks in mid-September for the Nortel-leased campus, which consists of 296,480 sf in two buildings at 2375 N. Glenville Dr., a 200,000-sf structure at 2380 Performance Dr. and one of the park’s three parking garages. The complex transaction includes a four-year option to purchase and a first right of offer for a 282,000-sf building at 2379 N. Glenville Dr., leased for the next 13 years to Nortel and owned by the New York City-based WP Carey Inc., along with six-month leaseback to Nortel for 120,000 sf in the largest building of the upcoming sale, Chris Joyner, executive vice president for Dallas-based Fischer & Co. and president of Fischer Financial, tells GlobeSt.com.

Nortel’s leases with Prudential had four years left on the term for the Glenville Drive buildings, darkened 18 months ago, and five years left on the Performance Drive structure, according to Joyner. “Nortel contributed its termination fee to Countrywide in order to justify the price that Prudential wanted,” he explains. Straddling Dallas and Collin counties, the office buildings, sitting on 16 acres, and the extra land are assessed at more than $33 million.

“On the day that we close, Nortel has 30 days to move their furniture out and hammers are going to be swinging,” Joyner says. Countrywide expects the first offices to open at the end of the first quarter.

“This is all new growth,” Joyner stresses, adding none of the one million sf in Plano’s Legacy Park or 500,000 sf in Fort Worth will be vacated for the Richardson campus, which has a build-out capability for another 500,000 sf. He says Countrywide wanted to “establish a roof for one million sf” and couldn’t expand in Plano so it started looking elsewhere in the metroplex.

Not only was the Galatyn campus available, but the consensus was the deal could be expedited before the year ended because the two corporations had an established relationship. “The quality of the buildings was important. The trust between the two organizations was more important,” Joyner says. “To move at this speed took a great deal of trust.” Nortel’s brokerage team consisted of Joyner and Fischer senior vice presidents Steve Andrews, Dale Clemments and Jan Elwell.

The 7,500 jobs will come on line in the next six years. Texas officials started lobbying Countrywide a year ago for the expansion, which early on pitted Dallas/Fort Worth against an expanding campus in Chandler, AZ. The lender’s principal mortgage banking operation, Countrywide Homes Loans Inc., will use the campus for data processing, administrative functions, call center and loan origination and servicing.

The state put up $20 million from a $295-million enterprise fund and Richardson officials packaged a seven-figure abatement. Countrywide is picking up the four years left on Nortel’s abatement package and got another six for the real estate and extra relief for equipment value, according to William Sproull, president and CEO of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce.

After the high-tech fallout, Richardson officials made a concerted effort to shuck its internationally recognized Telecom Corridor moniker to attract a diversified corporate mix. This year, the Texas Enterprise Fund helped the city to land a $3-billion semi-conductor chip facility for Texas Instruments Inc. and $85-million experimental biotech lab facility for the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Countrywide’s decision to expand will trigger other non-tech companies to expand in Richardson,” Sproull says. “It sends a signal to the marketplace that we’re open for business to all companies of quality.”

The Texas Enterprise Fund has spent $200 million this year to capture 22,500 jobs and nearly $6 billion of capital investment from the corporate world. “They’re jobs that are high paying and long lasting,” Jeff Moseley, executive director of the Texas Economic Development office, stresses to GlobeSt.com. “The Enterprise Fund lets us get into the competition…and it gives Texas the ability to directly stimulate new job creation. Never in the history of the state has a governor really been willing to market job creation like Gov. (Rick) Perry. It’s serious job creation and it’s really building our base for the next century.”

“Everyone stepped up to make this deal happen,” Joyner says, crediting Countrywide’s broker, James Travers and Steve Eyler with Los Angeles-based Travers Realty Corp., with being the force that kept the wheels spinning so fast. Having come this far so quickly, Joyner says with confidence the acquisition from Prudential will be inked before the ball drops in Time Square.

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