Buyout leads firm to Balto.; Commercial realty services firm first to move here in 15 years; Real estate


One of the nation's largest commercial real estate companies returned downtown yesterday after more than a five-year absence, finalizing a deal to acquire long-time Baltimore brokerage firm Casey & Associates Inc.

The Trammell Crow Co., as part of its purchase and pending shift from Columbia to downtown, will become the first national commercial real estate services firm to set up shop in Baltimore since CB Richard Ellis more than 15 years ago.

Although Trammell Crow will acquire 10 Casey real estate brokers, the Dallas-based company said it has no plans to become the city's largest real estate firm.

"We want to focus on core competencies and have market coverage, but we don't want to be just a body shop," said Dan Hudson, a Trammell Crow managing director responsible for Maryland. "This is an opportunity for us to speed up the growth and goals we have. I think the Casey organization will enable us to do that rather than just by adding one or two individuals at a time."

For Casey, Trammell Crow's purchase ends 36 years of independent operation as one of the area's leading commercial real estate firms.

The link with Trammell Crow is expected to give Casey a national platform and the ability to offer clients services ranging from brokerage to construction management.

"It's something we sought to do because we felt the real estate brokerage industry was moving in a more national direction," said J. Joseph Casey, the firm's chief executive, who will become a Trammell Crow senior vice president. "And we felt that the best full-service real estate firm was Trammell Crow, no question."

Before agreeing to sell to Trammell Crow, Casey had evaluated joining national firms Grubb & Ellis Corp. and Insignia ESG.

Nationwide, Trammell Crow manages 300 million square feet of space -- more than 20 times the amount of office space in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The company, which was founded in 1948 and went public two years ago, has roughly $500 million in assets.

Regionally, the combined firms will work in Virginia, Washington and the Baltimore metropolitan area, managing 25 million square feet of commercial space generating $50 million a year in revenue, Hudson said.

Trammell Crow operates in retail, office and industrial brokerage and development, as well as construction, property and facilities management. Its decision to go after Casey stems from a need for brokerage agents to carry out corporate transaction and other service-oriented work.

Casey, which has been liked with the global Oncor International network of real estate firms, will drop that affiliation.

Casey's decision to merge with Trammell Crow also comes amid one of the most feverish commercial real estate industry consolidations in history.

In the past five years, for instance, Trammell Crow alone has bought out companies in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Texas and Oklahoma, and real estate giants like Jones Lang Wootten and LaSalle Partners Inc. have teamed up to expand geographically.

For Trammell Crow, the Casey purchase marks a sort of Baltimore homecoming. In the mid-1980s, Trammell Crow developed numerous projects in and around Baltimore, including the 24-story First Union Tower at 7 St. Paul St.

The company also had plans to develop 1 Light St., originally designed to be the city's tallest office structure at 45 stories, but those plans fell apart with the onset of an economic recession at the start of the decade.

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