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Opus Signs Up Big Tenant, Finalizes Office Tower Plan


Phoenix developer Opus West Corp. said Tuesday that it will start construction in May on a $90-million, 14-story office tower near John Wayne Airport after signing a major law firm to a lease for six floors.

Opus is not concerned about building amid slower economic growth nationwide, said senior vice president Paul A. Marshall:

"The local economy is healthy, and if there is a slowdown, we're confident it won't have a major impact."

Opus said Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, which specializes in intellectual property law, has agreed to relocate 300 employees from Newport Beach to six floors of the new tower, the second phase of Opus Center Irvine in the Irvine Concourse.

Terms of the lease were not disclosed.

Office rents in Orange County rose to a record average of $2.23 per square foot in December, according to Voit Commercial Brokerage. The price, which had been rising 5% to 10% a year since 1996, increased nearly 8% last year from the previous year. Companies leased new space at about the same rate that it became available last year, the report showed.

The first phase of Opus' Irvine project, which opened in 1999, was one of the first new high-rises built in Orange County in years. The company said the 12-story building, containing 282,000 square feet, is 95% occupied. The tenants include PricewaterhouseCoopers, New York Life Insurance Co. and Miller Brewing Co.

Marshall said there are no plans yet to develop the project's third phase. Opus, one of Orange County's largest developers, has built more than 1.1 million square feet of office buildings in the county over the past three years.

Tom Taylor, a senior vice president at Grubb & Ellis Co. in Newport Beach, said the vacancy rate in the John Wayne Airport Area was less than 7% in December. "There's no evidence of overbuilding," Taylor said.

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