DALLAS-After six months of hard work on all fronts, Comerica Inc. has signed a 163,597-sf, 15-year lease for one of Downtown Dallas’ finest pieces of architecture. The long-awaited headquarters deal rechristens the 1.5-million-sf Bank One Center to Comerica Bank Tower, effective immediately.

Don Dowell with Cushman & Wakefield of Texas Inc. tells GlobeSt.com that the deal’s last detail was inked Friday when JPMorgan Chase signed the final paper to vacate by year’s end, terminating its lease three years early to first-floor retail space and 246,000 sf of trophy office space and giving Comerica exclusive banking rights to the 60-story landmark at 1717 Main St. JPMorgan had an existing 104,000-sf sublease pact in place that is being honored through 2010.

A Comerica spokeswoman says the first group of management executives, about 15 to 20, will arrive in Dallas in mid-September. Another wave of relocations will arrive in early 2008 and the balance of the 200 inbound executives will filter in over the next three years. To meet the immediate need, the tower’s owner, Metropolitan Real Estate Investors LLC of Los Angeles, is providing 20,000 sf of temporary space on the 21st floor.

Comerica is starting out with the first five floors and its name emblazoned on all four sides at the top of the landmark. The signs tentatively are slated to go up in October, with the light switch to be flipped at a grandiose party in November.

Dowell says finish-out will get under way after Nov. 1, the deadline for JPMorgan to vacate the fourth floor so it and the fifth floor can immediately undergo construction. The timeline calls for six months of renovation work although the scope of the remodel won’t be in Dowell’s hands for 30 to 60 days. Floors six and seven, totaling 51,000 sf, are being kept open in case Comerica exercises an expansion option. The JPMorgan space originally stretched to the 11th floor. Its sublease tenant, ORIX USA Corp. of Atlanta, controls floors eight through 11 until 2010, building in an extra bank of space for Comerica to grow.

The Comerica spokeswoman says the landmark’s chief selling point was the expansion opportunity although its CBD location and Philip Johnson-John Burgee design also weighed heavily on the final decision. The trophy’s chief competitor was Thanksgiving Tower at 1601 Elm St., where Comerica leases 60,000 sf. The spokeswoman says the lease expires in mid-2008 and the plan is to move to Comerica Bank Tower “or another Dallas location.”

The Comerica lease took six months to bed down. “We worked on it all the time,” says Dowell, who partnered with C&W senior director Tracy Fults and Wayne Malecha from Jackson Walker LLP and Metropolitan’s CFO Steve Korn. Comerica’s team consisted of Larry Toon and Carl Ewert with Dallas-based Staubach Co. and Phil Puckett, John Woolsey and Chris Herrmann with CB Richard Ellis.

The deal’s biggest hurdle was “the price differential between Thanksgiving Tower and our rental rate. Comerica had to overcome the price difference,” Dowell says. “We couldn’t get down to Thanksgiving Tower’s rental rates. It’s just different product.” Dowell, who’s overseen the trophy nearly two decades, says the competition at the beginning and end of the deal was “fierce.” According to North Texas Data Exchange, Thanksgiving Tower’s class A space is $18 per sf plus electric while 1717 Main is tagged at $21 per sf.

Ironically, the Comerica lease doesn’t backfill the entire JPMorgan block. Dowell says there’s about a 50,000-sf difference. “I have a lot of transactions in the works right now that’s going to offset that,” he says.

Metropolitan Real Estate Investors bought the landmark in December 2006, a $216-million bet bet that it would backfill the JPMorgan space without prolonged down time. “The successful repositioning of this unique property took months of intricate and detailed work, Haim Revah, Metropolitan’s chairman, says in a press release. “This transaction reaffirms our strategy of investing in class A properties situated in central business districts.” In July, Metropolitan bought the Lipstick Building at 885 Third Avenue and 292 Madison Ave. in Midtown Manhattan.

Comerica announced in March that it would shift its headquarters to Dallas from Detroit. Since, the market has been reeling with talk about how much space it would take and where it would land. In the past month, the location was no longer speculation, but street talk had the size of the deal fluctuating from as little as 90,000 sf to as much as 400,000 sf.

“Comerica completed an extensive public search process of the Dallas area,” says Jacob Abikzer, president of Metropolitan. “Their decision to sign on as the lead tenant is a testament to the strength of this asset.”

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