2 min read May 2022 — Bill Cawley, CEO of commercial real estate development and management company Cawley Partners, spoke with Invest: about the future of the modern office building, what makes North Texas’ business climate so attractive and how the area will continue to adapt to the population boom.
What are some recent milestones for Cawley Partners?
Everyone at Cawley Partners has stayed busy. We used the time to plan and strategize what our next move should be. I worked on building relationships with landowners to get joint ventures done on land sites we liked. We had three different corporate headquarters projects under construction during the pandemic. We had just broken ground on all three. Every 90 days I would go to all the decision-makers and ask, “What are we going to change? Are we going to change the layout?” Throughout the entire process with the three companies, not once did they ask to make changes. Long term, all three companies felt that we would go back to pre-Covid normal. Dallas-Fort Worth has been extremely resilient over the past few years.
We have limited vacancy in our buildings. I invest mostly in Dallas along the tollway, from LBJ (Lyndon B Johnson Freeway) and north. The hot markets in Dallas right now are Uptown, Preston Center, and Legacy North. In Preston Center and Uptown, anything built is immediately leased. A lot of buildings broke ground pre-COVID and are leasing up now. Tenants want new, high-quality buildings with amenities. For larger companies looking for space, there is a definite flight to quality. A large number of tenants may choose to reduce space or downsize, but all the incoming businesses looking to relocate will eat up that space. It’s going to take a little bit longer than people think, but overall, I am bullish on the Dallas office market.
What is unique about Dallas-Fort Worth’s business environment?
I came here from the Midwest when I was 28. I came here knowing no one. Dallas is one of the most prolific business climates I’ve ever done business in. It’s a very welcoming market. If you’re here and you add value, you are welcome. People here embrace growth. We love it here. I think the Dallas culture has always made sense, but it’s making so much more sense now. Everyone thought Dallas was dangerous from an investment perspective because there’s so much land, but good quality land is becoming hard to find.
Every time we do business with a client coming in from out of town, my first move after the deal is done is to speak with them and ask them why they’re choosing to come here. Dallas used to be a market people weren’t comfortable with. Now, institutional investors love Dallas because the people are drawn to the location. It’s in the center of the United States, and we have a great airport. It’s a right-to-work state, so there’s plenty of quality labor sources that work for fair wages. It’s still a great option compared to the Midwest and Northeast.
How did you change your business model during the pandemic?
I built the corporate headquarters for the largest hotel management company during COVID-19 in Aimbridge, and I met with their chairman recently to make sure my team was meeting their expectations. Their business boomed through COVID-19. They had issues because of hotel vacancies, but everyone survived the pandemic pretty well.
For us, we tried to be really relational with tenants who needed help instead of being predatory. If someone needed free rent, we didn’t ask to see financial statements. We just helped. Today, now that the pandemic is coming to an end, those people seem to have appreciated what we did. It’s been more relational, and hopefully, it will help us as their leases expire, and they decide what their office needs are going to be. It’s all about doing the right thing and taking care of people. And Dallas is full of those types of people. It’s a big city, but it’s small. We all know each other, and it’s about doing the right thing. You won’t last long here if you don’t have integrity.
What is the future of the modern office building?
One thing that drives me is wanting to be upfront on my design. Early in my career it was all about doing more. Once a building was done, I would move to the next deal. Now I stay involved. I want to pick the finishes in the lobby and to know what people want and will use. When I build a project, we try to anticipate what clients want and need. Once it’s built, it’s important for me to know if the customer sees value in the amenities we have built. To see how we did, I will get up in the morning and take my coffee and laptop and go sit and watch what amenities people use to determine what clients want for my next project.
I watch what our customer uses and wants. I also look for the elements we built that they don’t care about. I’ve never had the desire to play bocce ball in the middle of work. I think people want open, safe gathering spaces, internal and external. They want places they can collaborate in. People want a place to go that is inviting and feels safe.
What is the outlook for commercial real estate in Dallas-Fort Worth?
There’s a big gap between what’s going on in the market and what people think is going on because of all the work from home discussions. When doing business with someone, it’s all about having the focus be on the client and delivering what was promised. There will definitely be changes in office space use from COVID. I do think some will reduce space and have a portion of their workforce work from home a few days a week. I actually think most users will over correct, but in time realize that if in the right environment, people will want to come back to the office.
I am very bullish on Dallas. I think Dallas is a great place to relocate. It’s a wonderful place for families and businesses. It’s a great place to invest. For anyone thinking about relocating, Dallas has to be at the top of the list.
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