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FORT WORTH-As many regions face uphill battles on the economic front, Tarrant County’s stars remain aligned due to oil and gas revenues from the Barnett Shale as it fuels fundamentals for every CRE sector and pumps up the city at its epicenter. With the Fort Worth CBD bursting with office construction and corporate headquarters’ changes, 2007′s absorption ended in the red, but even that was good news.

“We have choices here in Tarrant County and Fort Worth that we have not had in some time,” George D. Duncan Jr., senior vice president in the Fort Worth office for Dallas-based Staubach Co. told the estimated 600 professionals at yesterday’s forecast meeting in the Fort Worth Convention Center along Houston Street. The CBD has gone from a limited number of office openings to a 578,281-sf vacancy in the 8.5-million-sf office inventory. And, there is 692,000 sf coming on line in 2008 and 2009.

Duncan reported last year ended with absorption down by 107,963 sf yet rents continued to climb and construction kept up its pace to get new office space into the inventory, which has been at a single-digit vacancy for several years. As buildings come on line in the inner core, he is predicting rents will remain flat as leasing opportunities increase for tenants and owners alike.

“When you put it all together, 2008′s bound to be a good year,” Duncan contended, citing the CBD’s ’07 breakthrough to a $32 per sf rate for some class A office space. Equally important, he says no more new office buildings are expected to start this year in the CBD and its abutting neighborhoods.

Fort Worth’s suburban office market, totaling 15.2 million sf, is 10.18% vacant across all classes. Its 2.2-million-sf class A inventory has a 7.52% vacancy.

As would be expected, Duncan says he’s cautiously optimistic due the construction level and soft spots in the office sector like CBD tenants turning to close-in suburban markets because free parking is available. Also, he cautions that there are several large lenders in the region’s midst as leaders of employment rosters and major office tenants. To date, jobs steadily have grown in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, but there’s always danger of a trickledown effect from the US economy.

“The economic climate we have in Tarrant County and Fort Worth will place us in an enviable position,” said Ben D. Loughry, managing partner of Integra Realty Resources DFW LLP. Yet just like with the office sector, retail, residential and industrial have their share of soft spots and hotspots to monitor.

In collating stats from several research sources, Michael K. Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, said Tarrant County accounts for 280.8 million sf of the 698.5 million sf of industrial in Dallas/Fort Worth. Tarrant County’s vacancy is 8.8% versus 9.1% region-wide. The western half of the metroplex has 6.4 million sf under construction after having delivered six million sf last year. But, the sweet spot is Tarrant County absorbed 6.96 million sf last year, significantly more than was built.

Berry said research has shown that Tarrant County’s land inventory is being rapidly depleted. He reported that its strongholds like Hillwood’s 17,000-acre AllianceTexas, North Fort Worth and South Fort Worth are the only areas with land inventories above the three-year watermark.

“The biggest impediment to our ability to sustain our growth in the industrial market is our ability to contain congestion,” Berry said. He and other leaders yesterday issued a call in support of regional transportation initiatives like the I-35 Coalition for the North Tarrant Expressway, Tower 55, commuter rail and rolls and managed lanes.

Although there are local concerns, Fort Worth consistently is ranked high by city watchers like Forbes. “If you’re going to pick some place in the US to be, Fort Worth is a great place to do real estate development,” Loughry said. “Relative to where we are in the country, we have an insulated shot with the Barnett Shale. It’s created a strong, vibrant economy for everyone in the city. Without that, we’d be up here talking a different story.”

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