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Carlton Fields selects new site

One of the Tampa Bay area's largest law firms is leaving downtown Tampa for a new office building in the West Shore district.

Carlton Fields P.A. will move into the top three floors of Corporate Center Three near International Plaza when the lease runs out on its Harbour Island office in mid-2004, said Thomas A. Snow, the firm's chief executive.

Crescent Resources LLP will break ground on the new 10-story building later this year and complete it within 13 months, said Joe Taggart, Florida region vice president. Carlton Fields will lease about 87,000 of the building's 330,000 square feet, a spokeswoman for the law firm said.

Office developers and brokers have been aggressively pursuing Carlton Fields since the firm announced two years ago that it was looking for new space.

Snow said he and other partners liked West Shore's location, more central to the rest of the bay area than downtown and next to Tampa International Airport. About half of the clients they polled preferred West Shore, and the other half said it didn't make a difference, he said.

"The location on Boy Scout (Boulevard at Lois Avenue) clearly had much better access in a central location," Snow said. "The conception that major law firms need to be downtown near the courthouse is outdated."

The new building also offered a high-speed, high-capacity communications network that would have to be retrofitted into an existing office and floor plans that provided for better use of space, he said.

Corporate Center Three will be slightly more expensive than the current offices, Snow said, but not enough to make a difference.

The Tampa office is the largest of Carlton Fields' six Florida offices, with 230 employees.

Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, said she was surprised and disappointed about Carlton Fields' decision.

"It's too bad for downtown and too bad for Carlton Fields," she said. "The good thing about downtown is its proximity to the seats of government and the courthouse. But the space they leave creates an opportunity for another employer to move in."

The law firm also had considered remaining at One Harbour Place, where it moved in as an anchor tenant in 1985, and going into a new downtown office.

It considered a 10-story tower proposed for Barry Real Estate Cos. at Ashley Drive and Brorein Street.

But Carlton Fields' decision, and indications that Bank of America will consolidate its Tampa operations in existing rather than new office space, may put off construction of a new downtown office tower for some time, Taggart said.

Crescent has had great success at the Corporate Center site next to Tampa International. The company attracted Outback Steakhouse corporate headquarters to Corporate Center One, which opened in 2000 and is now filled, Taggart said.

Corporate Center Two, opened a year later, is 80 percent leased and home to Walter Industries and the Tampa office of T. Rowe Price, he said. The new building will give Crescent about 1-million square feet of office space on the site.

_ Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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