CARROLLTON, TX-Argus Realty Investors LP has closed on one of this summer’s most closely watched deals, paying in excess of $130 million for 801,142 sf of net rentable space in a seven-building buy of International Business Park in Far North Dallas. The deal includes a preferred equity stake from the seller and title to an eighth building in the coming months.

The San Clemente, CA-based Argus Realty was one of four would-be buyers who made the best and final for Billingsley Co.’s prized office park. Argus’ class A portfolio sits on 50 of the park’s 300 acres, which are planned for five million sf of office space.

J Drever, Argus’ senior vice president of acquisitions for the Central US, tells there is no presale agreement in place for any other construction although the park was marketed with a joint-venture component for another 450,000 sf of class A office space. “We did this deal on a handshake,” he says. “If we can be the best and highest purchaser for other buildings they develop, we will take them, but there is no agreement to do that.”

Drever says several loans were defeased so that Argus could structure its own debt. He says Chicago-based LaSalle Bank provided a 10-year loan for $103 million at 6% fixed-rate interest and Billingsley also took a preferred equity stake on a portion of Argus’ investment.

“It was a very, very difficult transaction,” Drever stresses. “It really boiled down to the Billingleys working with us. LaSalle Bank stood tall and hung in there with us.” At Drever’s side to negotiate the deal was Haris Totakhail, Argus’ regional vice president.

The path to the closing table was far from easy due to the capital markets and the sudden death of Billingsley Co.’s long-time CFO Mack Dennis and point man for the deal. “I spoke with him every single day,” Drever says. “It is a huge loss to so many and my heart and our team’s support goes out to his family.”

International Business Park’s marketing began in May by the Holliday Fenoglio Fowler LP team of senior managing director Andrew S. Levy and director Todd W. Savage. “J Drever and the entire Argus [team] really pulled together to complete this transaction in the midst of a chaotic market for financial capital,” Levy says in a prepared statement.

“It was a very competitive bidding process. When it came down to who we wanted to have a long-term relationship with, it was Argus because of J Drever,” says Lucy Billingsley, managing partner. “This deal was amazing because in the midst of a tumultuous market, people lived up to their handshake deal.”

Drever says Argus is planning a 10-year hold, starting out the play with operations remaining as is. “We are going to stick with Billingsley’s plan. They developed it and they that park better than anybody,” he stresses. That includes holding firm to the $21-per-sf to $22-per-sf quote for office space. Argus is keeping Billingsley in place to manage its eight buildings and Trevor Franke of Peloton Real Partners will continue to lease them.

During due diligence, occupancy rose four points, with it resting at 88% by closing. Argus’ portfolio contains 41 tenants, none with more than 16% of the total rentable space. And, Drever says the lease roll is stable and staggered. “That helps tremendously to make it a smart investment,” he says.

As with any real estate story, Argus’ interest was location-driven, with easy access to Texas 190 and the Dallas North Tollway and straddling the Plano-Carrollton line. Argus has bought all but two buildings, both of which are owner-user occupied.

The portfolio is made up of two- and three-story buildings, ranging from 99,804 sf to 117,926 sf. They were developed between 1997 and 2001. The real estate pieces are International Business Park [IBP] I and 2, both situated at 6404 International Pkwy.; IBP 3 at 6500 International Pkwy.; IBP 4 at 6504 International Pkwy.; IBP 5 at 4000 International Pkwy.; IBP 8 at 4120 International Pkwy.; and IBP 9 at 4100 International Pkwy. IBP 10 at 4100 Midway Rd. passes to Argus post-defeasance, Drever says.

The park historically has had strong occupancy, which is a testament to building designs as well as location. “These office properties have the flexibility to cater to small incubator-type tenants, grow them and then move them to larger, full-floor spaces within our buildings,” Totakhail says. In a five-minute radius, there are 35 restaurants, seven hotels, five day-care centers and destination retail with the Shops at Willow Bend. Meanwhile there is an LA Fitness club and 1.5 million sf of retail rising inside the park’s bounds.

“We just think the Far North Dallas market is one of the strongest in the nation. It’s really on pace to more than double its rent growth,” Drever says. “And International Business Park is right in the crosshairs of all that growth.” According to a report by Boston-based Torto Wheaton Research, submarket rents are predicted to grow 5.1% in 2008, 6.7% in 2009, 7.9% in 2010 and 7.6% in 2011.

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