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DALLAS-With Preston Commons as the prize, BentleyForbes Group has signed Nicola’s Ristorante Italiano to an 11-year lease as eye candy for its valuable Preston Road frontage. The popular North Dallas restaurateur will open an 8,100-sf signature location by February 2009.

Hams Mumper, senior vice president and co-director of asset management for the Los Angeles-based owner, tells GlobeSt.com that the plan to add the first restaurant to the 418,604-sf class A office complex has been in the works about one year. Nicola’s was the only non-national restaurateur to make the short list, according to Mumper. Nicola’s was a 10-year tenant in the Galleria before moving to the Shops at Legacy in Plano.

Mumper credits BentleyForbes founder and chairman, C. Frederick Wehba, with the idea to take part of the valued office space and use it for retail. JPMorgan Chase’s 50,000-sf renewal at yearend 2007 had freed up 8,100 sf on the first floor when it downsized its bank space to 17,300 sf in the 122,500-sf building at 8111 Preston Rd. Earl Latimer of the Monitor Group in Dallas was Nicola’s broker.

With the restaurant spot now filled, Mumper says Capstar Commercial Real Estate Services team, which recently had its BentleyForbes contract extended, has another 15,000 sf in the complex’s other two buildings at 8115 and 8117 Preston Rd. as retail bait. The buildings face each other and are connected by a courtyard. “We aren’t aggressively looking, but we are looking into it,” Mumper says.

The Nicola’s finish-out has just begun. The interior will be similar to Plano’s, with “a casual elegance” that will include a bar, theatrical settings and al fresco dining like its nearby neighbor, Houston’s.

Mumper says the deal-maker was executive chef Luciano Salvadore’s Northern Italian cuisine, which had to compete in a taste test as part of the owner’s due diligence. “There aren’t that many Italian restaurants in that area,” he says. “We thought the food was very different.”

Mumper says Capstar’s Trey Smith, Clint Madison and Robert Powell have been at BentleyForbes’ side since the complex was bought in May 2005. It was rumored that BentleyForbes was considering taking its leasing in house like it did asset management. Mumper says the evaluation was portfolio-wide and not just in Dallas. “You have to have a critical mass [staff] to do that,” he says. “We’re very happy with Capstar’s services. They’re a great team and they’ve delivered great results for this Dallas portfolio.”

BentleyForbes’ Dallas real estate includes the 302,747-sf Sterling Plaza at 5949 Sherry Lane and 236,428-sf Park Center at 2400 N. Dallas Pkwy. in Plano. Mumper says Preston Commons and Sterling Plaza are hovering 90% occupancy, with Park Center having 79,791 sf of open space. But, Mumper says the Capstar team has 100,000 sf of deals in various stages in Park Center’s pipeline. “They are creating a lot of buzz in the market to get that space re-leased,” he adds.

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