By Gail Kalinoski
JLL Capital Markets has secured $52.8 million in refinancing from MetLife Investment Management for Contrarian Capital Management and Cameron Management for the historic Esperson office building in downtown Houston. The loan replaces maturing debt on the asset, which the partners have owned since 2012.
Located at 808 Travis St., the approximately 600,000-square-foot property encompasses two buildings—the 32-story Neils Esperson building constructed in 1927 and the 19-story Mellie Esperson building erected in 1941. The properties were connected in the 1950s and now take up a city block bounded by Walker, Rusk, Milam and Travis streets in the city’s central business district.
Since acquiring the asset, Contrarian and Cameron have completed approximately $11 million in capital improvements. The upgrades showcase the historic Italian Renaissance architecture and design features including original floors, finishes and wall elements. The property has a diverse mix of tenants from energy, law and banking sectors. No industry accounts for more than 20 percent of the tenant base.
The Esperson is situated along the METRO Light Rail system and is easily accessible from major highways. It is convenient to the federal and county courthouses, major CBD hotels, Minute Maid Park, the Toyota Center and theater and entertainment districts. It has direct access to the city’s tunnels, the series of underground pedestrian walkways that link office buildings and hotels with food and retail services. The property has four access points to the tunnel.
Executive Managing Director Tom Melody, Managing Director Paul House, Senior Vice President John Ream and Associate Connor Harrell led the JLL team on the transaction.
“The cost of debt remains attractive to owners and we’re seeing lenders very active in the Houston market,” House said in a prepared statement. “Backed by strong, experienced ownership and as one of the only historic office buildings in downtown Houston, Esperson presented lenders with a one-of-a-kind opportunity.”
Houston’s office market
The average asking rental rate for Class A office space in Houston’s CBD increased by $1 in the third quarter, rising from $44.28 per square foot to $45.28, according to Collier International’s third quarter Houston office report in 2018. Leasing activity increased 22 percent from 2.9 million square feet to 3.5 million square feet in the same quarter.
The market also posted positive absorption of almost 902,000 square feet, a substantial increase from the negative 0.7 million square feet of absorption recorded in the third quarter of 2017. The city’s job growth is up 3.7 percent over the year, and the Houston MSA created 101,200 jobs between August 2017 and August 2018. The construction sector had the biggest growth—13.5 percent. But professional and business services also saw job increases of 7.2 percent in that period, Colliers stated.
In the fourth quarter, JLL Capital Markets arranged the sale of Oak Park Office Center III, a 151,000-square-foot, vacant office building in Houston’s Westchase submarket. JLL represented the seller, Mallick Group. Also in October, the JLL team worked on behalf of The D’Agostino Cos. in its sale of a 114,000-square-foot property in Houston that was expected to be transformed into a medical office building.
Another Houston office building was also recently refinanced. In November, CPP Investment Board secured a $147.3 million floating-rate loan from Natixis to refinance San Felipe Plaza, a Class A tower in the Galleria/Uptown submarket. HFF’s Susan Hill arranged the financing of that 46-story, 980,473-square-foot property.
Image courtesy of JLL Capital Markets