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[IMGCAP(1)]DALLAS-Equastone will invest $3 million into renovating and re-branding a 295,440-sf office complex that it bought in May. The re-dressing of Merit Centre into TriStone could get under way in early November.

The San Diego-based buyer is unveiling plans that have been on the drawing board since it acquired the class B trio of buildings at 5710, 5720 and 5728 LBJ Freeway from its developer, Merit Properties, which has since exited the complex. The plans will be put out to bid next week, according to Bryan Marsh, Equastone’s senior vice president and Dallas overseer for 4.3 million sf of North Texas office space.

Marsh says the re-branding was a requirement of the purchase agreement. The new name is aimed at firmly tying the owner’s name to the well-known trio, situated one block east of the Dallas North Tollway and adjacent to the Galleria. The renovation, though, goes deeper than a name change as the owner aims to push up the class B space to the next level.

[IMGCAP(2)]“Renaming the complex and rebuilding its image with significant interior and exterior upgrades are essential elements of a successful leasing program and attracting tenants,” says Clint Harrington, the owner’s executive vice president. “As one of the few class B plus properties adjacent to the highly desirable Galleria, TriStone will emerge as one of the best values in this submarket.”

Marsh says preliminary work, like removing monument signs, has started while the owner hunkers down to select a general contractor. Construction will begin with all three lobbies, first-floor corridors and common areas, elevators and mechanical systems. The remainder of 2008 will be spent on retooling upper floors of the four-story twins at 5710 and 5720 LBJ Freeway and six-story building at 5728 LBJ Freeway.

[IMGCAP(3)]The upcoming work includes spec suites, perhaps even a spec floor, since a 40,000-sf contiguous block could be assembled in the largest structure. Marsh tells GlobeSt.com that the amount of ready-to-go office space is still being determined as is an on-going evaluation about the merit of adding class A amenities like conference and fitness centers. Other changes include new monument signs, landscaping, walkways and entry steps to create a boulevard-type welcome mat in a 12-acre park-like setting. Staffelbach Design Associates of Dallas is the project architect.

With rising class A rates, many class B office owners are reaping the benefit from companies that followed the flight of quality three and four years ago, but whose leases are now coming due. TriStone’s space is tagged at $15.50 per sf plus electric. CB Richard Ellis’ Q3 report pegs the submarket’s average at $16.59 per sf. “This is an affordable alternative and it’s a class A location,” Marsh stresses.

When the construction dust settles in the first quarter, Equastone will begin its value-add leasing drive to fill a now 49.9%-occupied complex. “We wouldn’t be making these improvements if we didn’t believe in the market,” Marsh emphasizes. “We are definitely looking to push the rates up to whatever the market can bear.”

Marsh says Equastone undoubtedly will roll out some brokers’ specials, much like it’s doing at the 225,000-sf Corporate Point at 5615 High Point Dr. in nearby Irving, where the latest special includes a free Ferrari for one year to the broker who plants the most deals in the building. Added incentive, he says, is Equastone’s policy for leasing commissions. “They pay 100% within 48 hours,” he adds. “They’re very broker friendly.”

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