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Commercial Real Estate: Profile of Manny Ybarra, Pillar Commercial

As Manuel M. “Manny” Ybarra walked through 550,000 square feet of vacated cubicles and empty hallways at the former corporate campus of Nortel Networks Corp. In Richardson, he began envisioning some big plans.

The space will likely attract a corporate relocation or consolidation of a technology-oriented global company that wants a significant presence in the Telecom Corridor, said Ybarra, the president of Pillar Commercial.

The Dallas-based firm - which has a dozen real estate properties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area - acquired the 16-story tower and adjoining research and laboratory building for $43.1 million on June 3.

The deal is the nearly seven-year-old company’s largest transaction yet, he said.

But Ybarra, 44 didn’t always want to lead large commercial real estate transactions. The Dallas native originally wanted to hold a public office.

He worked his way through college in his early 20’s, earning his bachelor’s degree in public administration, and waiting tables at the now-defunct Steak & Ale restaurant in Addison.

When he began applying for jobs, he would stalk the City of Dallas personnel department looking for a job, any job.

“I applied for any entry level position,” Ybarra said. “If they had a position for scrubbing toilets, I’d tell them, ‘I’m your guy.’ “I just wanted to get my foot in the door.”

It wasn’t about becoming a city employee - Ybarra wanted experience that could lead to a political career. After nine months of applying for administrative assistant positions and other entry level jobs, Ybarra only interviewed for one position and walked away without a job.

He was devastated and decided to apply for graduate school, he said. It was after he signed up for classes that the City of Dallas gave him a call.

Ybarra was offered a position.

He quickly moved up the City of Dallas ladder from an administrative assistant tucked into a windowless space at City Hall to a vice president with Dallas Chamber’s economic development department.

He worked on a number of high-profile projects, such as Blockbuster’s

Taking a leap: The $43.1 million purchase of the former Nortel Networks campus in Richardson is the largest deal for Manny Ybarra’s 7-year-old Pillar Commercial.

move into downtown Dallas and Transamerica Corp.’s move, which involved real estate.

In the late 90's, Ybarra’s interest in running for office dissipated, and he saw the financial rewards of commercial real estate.

Ybarra took a leap to Grubb and Ellis, working on straight commission. He was later approached and hired by Dallas-based TPMC Realty Corp. to oversee the group’s portfolio in Dallas and Houston.

He then decided to make one more leap - and it was a big one. He decided to start Pillar Commercial.

Ybarra, who had never put together a partnership or negotiated a commercial loan, gave himself two years to get off the ground. In his mind, he needed to find one building and put together one partnership.

After resigning from TPMC, he stumbled on a seven building opportunity while sitting in a friend’s Texas Rangers suite. There, Ybarra met a group of investors looking for someone to oversee their real estate portfolio and firm up leasing.

Within two years, the company took the 1 million square-foot office portfolio and took the occupancy rate from 55 percent to more than 90 percent.

With the acquisition of the former Nortel Networks buildings and additional transactions down the road, the future for Pillar Commercial looks bright.

The company plans to hire 20 to 25 employees to help lease up the campus’ vacant space in the next few months.


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