Tornado-Ravaged Tower Is For Sale

Wednesday, August 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The owner of a 35-story office tower that took a direct hit when a tornado ravaged downtown four months ago has abandoned plans to restore the building and is putting it up for sale.

Certified letters were sent to the Bank One Building's 65 tenants informing them that their leases are ineffective immediately, Ron Cherry, managing partner for Loutex Fort Worth, said Tuesday. Only three businesses had reopened in the ravaged tower, the bank and two restaurants.

The tornado churned through downtown Fort Worth on the evening of March 28, shortly after many workers had left their offices. No one was killed downtown, but there were five other deaths elsewhere and damage was estimated to be at least $450 million.

Scores of accountants, lawyers and other professionals in several downtown office towers were forced to relocate, and many lost priceless paper and computer records that were sucked out of broken windows.

Cherry said Tuesday that restoring the building, opened in 1974 and valued at $35 million, was not feasible. While refusing to reveal an exact figure, Cherry said the cost of repairs would be ``millions beyond that'' and have continued to escalate.

Just replacing the more than 3,000 damaged windows, most still covered with plywood, would cost more than $10 million, he said.

Whether Loutex can find a buyer will depend on the price it asks, real estate experts said.

Mayor Kenneth Barr told The Dallas Morning News that he's ``very disappointed. ... It's a very visible part of our downtown. But I'm confident that someone will realize the value of the building and step in and repair it.''

The announcement sent Bank One on a search for space in the crowded downtown market. ``We're the biggest bank in downtown Fort Worth,'' Danny Smith, president of the bank's Tarrant County operations, told the Star-Telegram. ``We have no choice.''

Mike Evans, owner of the Western-themed Reata restaurant on the top of the building, spent $1 million to reopen his fashionable eatery within weeks. To bring back diners to the nearly empty building, Evans even pulled out reservation books and called old customers.

He learned Tuesday morning he would have to close or move somewhere else, and within hours he filed a lawsuit.

``How can you move a business like that in 30 days?'' he said.