The firm counted over 191 new leases totaling over 800,000 square feet and added prominent brands like Tommy Bahama Home, Fabletics, Sweetgreen, True Food Kitchen, johnnie-O and SPACES among others.
In Fort Worth, a key signing late in the year was the first U.S. location of Quince, an award-winning restaurant with its main location in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is expected to open later this year at WestBend, located just off Interstate 30 and University Drive, in the space formerly occupied by Bartaco.
It was a welcome burst of activity in a year still reeling from the economic impacts of the pandemic. The signing also set the stage for the celebration of the firm’s 30th anniversary.
“What has worked for Trademark is really caring about what we build in the communities,” said Terry Montesi, Trademark CEO. “A lot of developers we observe go into communities and they do their formulaic thing and they just basically say, ‘Community, we are good at this, just let us do what we do and you’re going to like it.’ We don’t believe in that. We do research. We partner with the communities. We listen to the people, and we think if we give the customer what they want, it’s a lot lower risk, and the municipalities are happier and the customers are happier.”
Montesi’s career – and Fort Worth focus – goes back to 1983, when he got out of graduate school at the University of Texas and went to work for Lincoln Property Co. There, he handled the leasing for the University Center project at University Drive and I-30. Then Montesi, along with Sam Brous, Pat McDowell and Jack Huff, formed a brokerage company in 1986. In 1992, he began his current firm, Trademark.
“Trademark was started because when we were at Huff Brous, almost every commercial property in Tarrant County went back to the lender, virtually all of them, except ones that were fully owned,” he said.
Montesi had become a Blockbuster Video franchisee – it was the 1980s – and he began raising money for that. At the same time, commercial real estate was priced inexpensively coming out of the recession, so he began thinking about how to acquire commercial properties and improve them.
“If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve just tried to find some financial partners to buy more, the whole book,” he said. “You made money basically just by buying. It was all about timing. Just about buying at that time. It wasn’t so much that you were great at picking the right property, everything rose a ton. That was just the bottom of a deep cycle. We haven’t had a cycle that deep since.”
The first property for Trademark was in Dallas at the Preston Royal Center, which is where a Central Market is located today. University Park Village Phase I followed and then several sites outside of the area.
Among the projects they developed early on was the Trinity Commons project, still anchored by Tom Thumb grocery at Hulen Street and Bellaire Drive. It opened in 1998.
Trademark doesn’t own the center any longer, but Montesi said he is proud that the extra care the company put into the development continues to pay dividends.
“It’s still a very viable, successful center,” said Montesi.
Trademark is primarily known for its mixed-use developments, usually from the ground up. The company’s first big, complicated, mixed-use project was Market Street Woodlands, which is the mixed-use town center of the Woodlands, the large planned community north of Houston.
“That has been very successful, and it’s aged well,” he said. “It’s got luxury retailers like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany in it. And it’s got an H-E-B Central Market, and it has an office and boutique hotel. It’s been the heart of the Woodlands community since ’04 when we opened.”
Montesi said a part of the company’s success is attributable to the old real estate adage: location, location, location.
“For example, The Woodlands is kind of an island trade area in that it’s 35 miles from central downtown Houston, and that planned community done so well by George Mitchell and The Woodlands Corp.,” he said. “And then the macro market of Houston and that part of Houston has been the top No. 1 suburb or suburban growth area for all of Houston. And so it has created a great opportunity for us to dominate the retail landscape up there.”
Montesi attributes Trademark’s success to creating spaces where people want to spend time. That means more than just having great retailers, though that doesn’t hurt.
“Our purpose statement is to be extraordinary stewards, enhance communities and enrich lives,” he said. “One way you can do that is to make the place where people spend their precious time special. And we believe when you invest in communities, the community will pay you back.”
Trademark’s properties are known for having plenty of public art, and that’s intentional.
“Public art is a big part of what we do, and it’s not just, ‘Oh, because Terry likes public art,’ ” he said. “We really believe it’s one of the things that helps make an emotional connection to a place and not just to have a transactional relationship.”
Montesi said the pandemic has challenged retail, but he sees it coming back strong.
In the early 2000s, “many retailers had gotten lazy, and they could expand without really improving their concept,” he said. “All they had to do was open a bunch of stores and Wall Street would reward them.”
Then, by early 2020, retail growth, particularly fashion and lifestyle offerings, had migrated to ecommerce, he said.
“Starting in maybe ’13, ’14, ’15, as retail sales growth went online a lot of these generic boring fashion retailers started to suffer and really not just not have sales growth, but a lot of them lost a ton of their sales,” he said.
Then in 2020, COVID hit, and many in the industry thought retail would be devastated.
“And a lot of the really weak retailers closed down. We had three years or so of closures in one year,” he said. “Most of those needed to close. I can think of a couple that had they stayed open they would’ve crushed it in ’21, but generally we had too much retail square footage, and we had too many stores. And so what happened is in ‘21, things came back. The good retail did great in 2021. And now the capital markets have come back and prices for good retail have really firmed up.”
Montesi said the market is actually better off now because the weak retailers left the market.
“The good operators have survived,” he said.
Now, as Trademark celebrates 30 years, the company is making some changes.
While it has partnered to provide the multifamily component of their mixed-use developments, Trademark added Chad Colley as multifamily partner and senior vice president last year. Colley will use his multifamily and real estate experience to help launch Trademark’s multifamily platform.
“We have been considering rounding out our mixed-use development capabilities with multifamily for a while,” said Montesi. “So we decided that our skillset, which involves place-making and design and understanding of the consumer will translate well into multifamily. We’ve been thinking about it for a number of years and we just finally found the right person.”
For Fort Worth, Trademark has plenty on its plate. The Quince restaurant will start construction at WestBend in a few weeks.
Quince is being brought to WestBend by Quince’s creator and lead partner, Brian Sneed, a former Fort Worth hedge fund manager and Texas Christian University alumnus.
“This has been a long time coming, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my concept home and to one of the best views on the Trinity River,” Sneed said in a news release. “It’s a must that Quince has exceptional views and quality neighboring businesses, and WestBend perfectly fits this requirement,” he said.
In addition to Quince, four retailers and two other restaurants are on the way to WestBend, Montesi said.
Montesi said Trademark will continue to focus on what has made it successful in the past.
“West Bend, that’s great real estate, and Waterside, Alliance Town Center, Preston Royal Centerl, Market Street Woodlands. It’s location, location, location,” he said. “If you work on great real estate, you partner with the communities, you listen to the customer, and then you give them something that shows them you’re really investing, going above and beyond for them, you’ll be successful. That formula has worked very well for us.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.