Cousins Properties buys Texas towers in focused effort to expand beyond Atlanta region

By David Pendered

Cousins Properties, Inc. – a bellwether Atlanta-based REIT – has closed its previously announced purchases of two office projects in Texas for a total cash price of $1.1 billion.

The two purchases increase Cousins presence in one of the fastest growing regions of the country, according to urban demographer Joel Kotkin, who’s been including the Third Coast since at least 2011 in his list of the nation’s growth corridors.

Greenway PlazaThe Cousins deal includes a 10-building office project in Houston, which Kotkin names as “the clear center” of a mega region that stretches along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida. Houston was the destination of this year’s LINK delegation, which was covered extensively by Maria Saporta.

To put the acquisitions in context, Cousins was valued at about $1.9 billion by nasdaq.com on Wednesday morning.

Cousins stock was downgraded last week from buy to hold by TheStreet Ratings.

The report noted positive signs including, “revenue growth, reasonable valuation levels and solid stock price performance.” The weaknesses cited in the report included, “unimpressive growth in net income, poor profit margins and weak operating cash flow.”

Cousins sold a retail center in August in a move intended to raise cash for the Texas transaction, according to zacks.com. Cousins sold one of its Avenue retail centers, a 752,000-square-foot center outside Nashville, in Murphreesboro.

Cousins’ latest purchases include:

  • Greenway Plaza, a 10-story office project with 4.4 million square feet southwest of downtown Houston. The property is 92 percent leased and is on a 52-acre site that’s master-planned as a mixed-use development, according to nasdaq.com;
  • 777 Main Street, located in Fort Worth, provided 980,000 square feet in a 40-story tower. It’s projected to have a 72 percent occupancy rate by the end of 2013, according to nasdaq.com.

The Houston purchase is Cousins’ second in the city this year. Post Oak Central was purchased for $232.6 million, or $182 a square foot, and was 92 percent leased, according to SEC filings earlier this year.

The Texas acquisitions are line with the company’s ongoing efforts to refocus its portfolio on growth markets, which includes a reduction of its footprint in Atlanta.

Cousins reported in its 2012 annual report that it intended to broaden its holdings outside Atlanta. The company reported that 56 percent of its income came from four properties in Atlanta: Terminus 100, 191 Peachtree Tower, the American Cancer Society Center and Prominade. The report stated:

  • “Subsequent to year end, the company reduced its exposure to the Atlanta, Georgia market by selling 50 percent of Terminus 100 and acquiring Post Oak Central in Houston, Texas. Even with this reduced exposure, any adverse economic conditions impacting the Atlanta area generally, or in its Downtown, Midtown or Buckhead submarkets specifically, could adversely affect the operations of one or all of these properties which, in turn, could adversely affect our overall results of operations and financial condition.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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