Quiet firm makes big impact with downtown building
Fort Worth-based Jetta Operating Co. has grown dramatically since its inception in 1991. Nevertheless, the privately held oil and gas exploration and production firm historically has attracted little media attention.
That’s suddenly changing. A big, ambitious new project in the heart of bustling downtown Cowtown — an undertaking with a price tag of more than $100 million — is giving Jetta a markedly higher profile.
The company, with nearly 250 employees and 140 in Fort Worth, is planning to move its corporate headquarters from the downtown Fort Worth Club Tower at 777 Taylor St. into a new high-rise of 25 to 26 stories to be built only a block away. The building will be built and owned by Anthracite Realty Partners, a family-owned entity of Jetta CEO Greg Bird.
A groundbreaking ceremony is expected in October, with the building targeted for completion in December 2017, Bird said. It will be the seventh-tallest building in Fort Worth and become a downtown landmark, forecasts project architect Michael Bennett, CEO of Bennett Benner Partners.
The building will be at 640 Taylor St., on the site of the Star-Telegram Annex Building that was razed several years ago.
Jetta has been based in the Fort Worth Club Tower since the company was formed nearly a quarter-century ago. The planned new building “is a natural progression of where we wanted to go as a company,” Bird said in an interview with Fort Worth Business.
“We’ve grown in our employee count and we’re now on four different floors in the Fort Worth Club,” Bird said. The new building will give Jetta an amenity-rich workplace tailor-made for its employees and a home for probably at least “the next few decades,” he said.
BIRD RECEIVES AWARD
Bird will be honored as Top CEO at Fort Worth Business’ Top 100 Private Companies event, set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the downtown Omni Hotel.
“I’m sincerely honored,” he said. “Every day my focus is on moving Jetta ahead, setting the right course of action and communicating the goals that really matter. I am fortunate to have a strong and talented team so that I can then get out of the way and let them do what they do best.”
Bird, 55, co-founded Jetta when he was only 31 (fellow co-founder Michael Radler left Jetta in 2007 and the company bought him out). Prior to starting Jetta, Bird worked eight years for Fort Worth-based Cawley, Gillespie & Associates, a petroleum engineering services firm. Before that, he worked a year for Dallas-based Hunt Energy after graduating magna cum laude in 1982 from Texas A&M University, where he was named the outstanding senior petroleum engineering student.
Jetta has grown from a small start-up to a substantial energy producer with revenues that have mushroomed “over 20 percent per year over the last 10 years, despite sales of certain key fields along the way,” Bird said.
Such dramatic growth isn’t expected this year. Domestic oil prices recently sagged to about $45 a barrel, less than half of what crude fetched in the first half of 2014.
Jetta is reducing drilling, but the company “will remain profitable … despite the downturn,” Bird said. Jetta has reduced the impact of tumbling oil prices by hedging much of its production, he said.
Jetta won’t divulge its annual revenues, but Bird said daily output from the wells it operates has grown to about 9,000 barrels of oil and 35 million cubic feet of gas, or almost 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day. Oil and Gas Financial Journal ranks Jetta 34th in the United States in operated production among privately held companies.
THE NEW BUILDING
Bird is eagerly anticipating construction of the new high-rise, mixed-use building downtown, which will include new Jetta headquarters on three floors.
The latest tentative plans are for a 25-story building, but Bennett said it still might be 26 stories, depending on how much office and parking space is needed.
Numbers are “still being finalized” for the project’s cost, but it will be “over $100 million,” Bird said.
Balfour Beatty Construction, with offices in Fort Worth and Dallas, will be general contractor.
The building will have ground-floor retail space, an estimated 258,900 gross square feet of office space and 45,800 gross square feet of “amenity floors,” including a large conference center, event room, fitness center, outdoor terraces and a full-service cafe that will include indoor and outdoor dining spaces open to the public, according to a building description.
Parking will be extensive, with about 900 spaces. There will be four subterranean parking levels and at least nine parking levels, and possibly 10, immediately above the ground-floor retail space.
Substantial parking space will be available for patrons of the nearby Fort Worth Club and MorningStar Partners, an oil and gas firm in the historic Star-Telegram Building at 400 W. Seventh St.
Bennett said excavation and construction of subterranean parking might begin in two months and take six months, with building construction following.
Jetta and a “regional publicly traded financial institution” that has yet to be identified will be anchor tenants in the new building, with each having three office floors, according to Anthracite Realty Partners. Jetta’s three office floors will be just below the top floor, which might house one or two apartments for Jetta’s use, Bird said.
Five more floors of office space could be offered to prospective tenants.
A 12th floor “sky lobby,” located above the parking levels, will feature views of surrounding downtown buildings, a visitor check-in area, a fitness center, outdoor terraces and the cafe. One terrace will be “a wine bar in the evening … with great views overlooking Sundance [Square],” Bird said.
A 13th floor conference center will be “over 20,000 square feet with multiple high-tech rooms” and a catering kitchen, Bird said. The center will have “a beautiful event room with glass on all sides and over 4,000 square feet,” for activities such as evening receptions after seminars, he said.
A final decision on the building’s name hasn’t been announced, but Anthracite Tower is being bandied about. Anthracite is a kind of coal, and Jetta’s name is a reference to jet coal, a black coal (hence the term “jet black”) that will shine when polished. Jetta’s name alludes to its roots as a company that acquired old, marginal wells and made them “shine” by upgrading them into better producers.
Bird said his wife, Laura Bird, who has an academic and professional background in building construction, has played a huge role in planning the new building. A Dallas native, she has a degree in construction science from Texas A&M, where she and Greg met. Her father, Joe R. Walker, was CEO of J.W. Bateson Co., a Dallas-based general contractor involved in numerous major building projects, including the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.
The Birds, who have two grown children, have given extensively to various entities through their foundation. Beneficiaries include Cook Children’s Medical Center, Alliance For Children, Union Gospel Mission, Fort Worth Public Library Foundation, Fort Worth Zoo and ACH Child and Family Services.
Jetta had modest beginnings.
Its first well was a marginal natural gas producer in Mississippi. Jetta paid about $70,000 for a majority interest in the aging well, which was “kind of on its last leg,” Bird said, but “we went out and changed the way it produced and increased its production.”
Rejuvenating old gas wells was the modus operandi of Jetta in its early years. But in the late 1990s, with oil prices crashing to $15 a barrel, the company began buying older properties focused on oil production in areas such as the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana. Jetta bought these properties cheaply and benefited when crude prices rebounded. For the past eight years or so, Jetta has greatly accelerated its drilling of new oil wells and spent a record amount on drilling in 2014, Bird said.
Bird said Jetta’s biggest production is in Ward County in West Texas, in the oil-rich Permian Basin. “We produce from both shallow and deep horizons,” he said.
Bird said the company is now focused on managing costs, has limited its debt and has benefited from lower prices for oilfield services as drilling has declined.
“We feel very good about how we’re going to manage this downturn,” he said. “We will continue to work hard getting ready for next year, when we increase investments in our fields through new drilling.”
Bird said that when drilling in older fields such as the Big Mineral Creek Field in Grayson County in North Texas, the company scrutinizes information on past drilling and gleans new insights about how to better drill new wells with advanced technology such as 3-D seismic surveys and horizontal drilling.
At Big Mineral Creek, horizontal drilling allowed Jetta to tap into larger quantities of oil and gas, reducing “the risk of the kind of hit-and-miss vertical wells” drilled in the past, Bird said.
The current drilling lull gives Jetta a “great opportunity to hit a pause button,” reassess the company’s operations and eye opportunities to buy more oil and gas properties at favorable prices, Bird said.
The oil industry of the future will be “highly capital-intensive,” requiring large dollar outlays for energy companies bent on growing, Bird said. “You’ll see the stronger companies survive and get bigger. … It’s going to be hard for the small company to make its mark,” he said.
With global oil consumption at roughly 93 million barrels a day, there are continual concerns that the world is running out of oil. But Bird doesn’t see the “end of oil” anywhere on the horizon.
“I don’t think I’ll be around for that,” he said. “That doesn’t keep me up at night.”
Title: CEO of Fort Worth-based Jetta Operating Co., an oil and natural gas producer
Full Name: Gregory Alan Bird (“My mother liked Gregory Peck.”)
Birth: March 9, 1960, in Nacogdoches
Childhood home: Alvin
Parents’ occupations: Mother was a third-grade teacher and father was a union pipefitter and welder.
College: Texas A&M University, magna cum laude,1982; named outstanding senior petroleum engineering student
Career: 24 years with Jetta, which he co-founded in 1991. Previously worked eight years for Cawley, Gillespie & Associates (petroleum engineering services) and one year for Hunt Energy (oil and gas exploration and production firm).
Major current project: New downtown Fort Worth high-rise to house Jetta’s corporate headquarters, conference center, full-service cafe, office space for additional tenants and parking facilities.
Thoughts on the new building: Fort Worth “will continue to thrive in the coming years and I am very excited that Jetta, its employees and the tenants will be part of that great ride. … I have worked in downtown Fort Worth since 1983 and have truly enjoyed watching the growth and change that has occurred over the last 30-plus years. Our company culture is centered around a balance of business and personal life, and being in the heart of this great city is the perfect blend.”
Thoughts on Jetta: “Jetta will remain profitable this year despite the downturn [in oil prices and drilling]. We will continue to work hard getting ready for next year when we increase investments in our fields through new drilling.”
Wife: Laura Bird has a degree in construction science from Texas A&M and has worked for firms in building construction. She played a significant role in planning for the new high-rise building. She and Greg met during their freshman year at Texas A&M at a basketball game.
Family: The Birds have two grown children
Leisure activities and exercise: Golf, fly fishing, snow skiing and hiking/mountain climbing (has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania). Works out “almost every morning with combination of weights and some treadmill time.” Car buff who restored 1980s vintage K-5 Chevrolet Blazer. Raises black Angus bulls on ranch west of Fort Worth.
Philanthropy: Greg and Laura Bird have their own charitable foundation.
Church membership: First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth.
What he reads: Wall Street Journal, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Worth Business, The Economist, travel and car magazines.
Last book read: Following Oil by Thomas A. Petrie.