Two of the country’s leading eye research institutions founded and based in Dallas — Texas Retina Associates (TRA) and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest (RFSW) — have recently opened new offices under the same roof. The new facilities are located at 9600 N. Central Expressway at the southeast corner of N. Central Expressway and Walnut Hill Lane in Central Dallas.

While separate, TRA and the RFSW have worked closely together for more than 30 years to identify new treatments for eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinitis pigmentosa and uveitis — leading causes of vision loss in millions of people throughout the world. The goal of sharing this recently renovated building is to provide patients with more immediate, expanded and direct access to breakthrough treatments and clinical trials for these conditions and many others. The new facilities were custom-designed for optimal patient care and research utility.

A Tale of Two Organizations Seeking a Shared Property
Just north of the new site, RFSW had operated for 20 years in a leased facility that had grown increasingly inefficient and outdated.

“We knew we needed a new, state-of-the-art research facility to take us to the next level and allow us to fully achieve our mission of finding the causes, treatments and potential cures for blinding eye diseases,” said Project Committee member Stephen Rogers, President of Viceroy Investments and past RFSW board member.

TRA’s main Dallas office was also in an old space that no longer met the organization’s needs.

“Our field has evolved significantly in the past 20 years,” explains TRA vitreoretinal specialist and RFSW Board member David Callanan, M.D. “And our facility was encumbering our ability to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of our patients.”

About seven years ago, Rogers was talking with RFSW founder, past president and long-time board member Tom Anderson along with TRA partner and then RFSW board chair Rand Spencer, M.D., about future space needs. The three decided to make it a goal to figure out a way to put the two organizations together under one roof. Coincidentally, both organizations’ leases were expiring at the end of 2012.

Crafting the Deal
TRA and RFSW needed a combined 35,000 square feet. The groups locked arms and jointly approached the market to lease or purchase a building. After looking at approximately 40 buildings, they began to discuss with Texas Health Resources the idea of leasing or purchasing the Walnut Hill facility.

Historically, the building had always been a retail location and over the years, was occupied by a myriad of tenants, including Toys R Us, Home Depot Floor Store, Gateway Computers and David’s Bridal. The property had been owned by Dallas developer J.L. Williams, and the J.L. Williams Foundation donated it to Presbyterian Hospital (Texas Health Resources) and Children’s Medical Center in 2008. The property was too small for the hospital’s use and created a challenge since it was not contiguous to their existing facilities. Texas Health Resources’ Jon Sullivan and Kevin Womack helped TRA and RFSW realize the property was suitable for medical use.

The interior premises as well as the exterior had been fully depreciated, and the significant retrofit cost associated with a lease became an issue for Texas Health Resources and its balance sheet. As a result, TRA and RFSW decided it would be better to purchase the facility. Since the property was donated to Texas Health Resources/Children’s Medical, they obtained permission from the donor to sell the property to TRA/RFSW.

An important aspect for RFSW was to make sure the property was classified as non-profit in order to avoid ad valorem property taxes. As a result, the property was rezoned and set up as a condominium. The overall complex is now comprised of three ownership groups/tenants. Spec’s leases the entire second floor in the former Toys R Us building. DaVita Dialysis Clinic leases the middle part of the complex on the bottom floor. TRA and RFSW own the 40,000 square feet on the corner. TRA and RFSW worked with Ascension Group Architects and TRA macular degeneration patient and RFSW board member Mickey Munir of Sharif & Munir Custom Homes to help oversee the renovation.

“What makes this transaction so unusual is that the purchaser is a partnership owned by both a non-profit and for-profit enterprise,” explains Project Committee member Jeff Yarckin, partner at TriGate Capital and member of the RFSW Finance/Endowment Committee.

Rogers concurs. “This story is one of adaptive reuse,” he said. “As the area continues to grow in the medical arena, it was only logical that this property follow suit. This creative reuse has removed a blighted building from a prominent corner in Central Dallas and helps to further energize the immediate area.”

A primary objective of both organizations was to not only create state-of-the-art, efficient facilities, but to do so in the most cost efficient manner.

“The project committee spent three years in the selection, design and implementation phases,” shares Texas Retina Associates CEO and Project Committee member Jeff Brockette. “We wanted to control and manage our occupancy expenses both now and into the future so we can focus our resources on patient care and sight-saving research. This solution allowed us to do just that.”

New Model for Medical Research Facilities Emerges
TRA and the RFSW leaders believe their new model will serve as a template for other profit/non-profit organizations.

“It is a completely novel approach and totally unique to have a for-profit retinal practice located on the same floor and just down the hall from a retina research organization.” explains Yarckin. “We think this is the first time such a scenario has been accomplished in Dallas.”

Karl Csaky, M.D., Ph.D, serves as a vitreoretinal specialist at TRA as well as the T. Boone Pickens Senior Scientist and Director of the Molecular Ophthalmology Laboratory at the RFSW. “In the last five to 10 years, as medicine has become more efficient, a void has emerged in patient-oriented research,” explains Dr. Csaky. “Many of the traditional academic research institutions have been forced to cut back, and they also face great challenges in meeting pharmaceutical company’s demands for efficiency. Moving Texas Retina Associates and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest into the same building allows us to operate even more efficiently and meet those demands. We can more quickly and easily translate research from the lab to patient care which is going to attract additional research studies to the Dallas community. I think others are going to look to us as a new model to replicate across the country.”

About TRA and RFSW
Established in 1966, Texas Retina Associates, with 13 offices throughout the state and 17 retina-fellowship-trained physicians, is Texas’ largest, most experienced ophthalmology practice focused specifically on the diagnosis and medical and surgical management of diseases of the retina and vitreous. The practice’s sub-specialized physician team has participated in more than 75 national clinical trials over the past 20 years, bringing the newest retina and vitreous treatments to its patients.

Also based in Dallas, the Retina Foundation of the Southwest is an independent, non-profit research institute established in 1975. The Foundation hired its first scientists in 1982 and has since grown into one of the leading independent vision research centers in the United States, with a staff of 28 dedicated to finding the causes, treatments and potential cures for devastating eye diseases. Patients are referred by ophthalmologists in Dallas and surrounding counties. In addition, patients come from all over the country to participate in various clinical research trials. All patients are seen completely free of charge for in-depth eye tests and research visits. The Retina Foundation of the Southwest is funded by philanthropic donations from individuals, corporations and foundations as well as federal grants.