Headquarter of Headquarters: How Fehmi Karahan Turned Ross Perot Sr.’s Vision into a Reality

Legacy West in Plano has become home to the U.S. headquarters of Toyota Motor North America, and regional campuses for Liberty Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, FedEx Office, and others.

Karahan

Master developer Fehmi Karahan has a clear view from his office high above the Dallas North Tollway. Decades ago, the view consisted of rolling grasslands. Today, the location is home to corporate giants and thousands of people who live and work in Plano. 

Karahan, president and CEO of The Karahan Companies, is responsible for a headquarters-filled business park on the 2,665 acres he bought from H. Ross Perot Sr. at Legacy Drive and the Dallas North Tollway. The booming mixed-use developments are Legacy West and The Shops at Legacy in Legacy Town Center.

“I’m a beneficiary of [Perot’s] vision … and even though I get a lot of credit, if it wasn’t for his vision of putting this together, I would not have had the good fortune to develop Legacy Town Center, The Shops at Legacy, and Legacy West,” Karahan says.

The 240-acre Legacy West mixed-use development, on the southwest corner of the Dallas North Tollway and State Highway 121, has, indeed, attracted the corporate giants, with campuses for Toyota Motor North America’s headquarters, Liberty Mutual, JPMorgan Chase, FedEx Office, and others. It’s a place Karahan said might be considered a “headquarters for headquarters.”

Caravan

Toyota Motor North America’s headquarters is a crown jewel of the Legacy West development. [Photo by Lance Murray]


Karahan, a Turkish immigrant, started building his reputation in 1999 when he signed an agreement with Perot’s Electronic Data Systems to buy land on which to build Legacy Town Center, the 150-acre mixed-use development where The Shops at Legacy sits.

The Shops at Legacy is a 400,000-square-foot gathering place that is at the heart of the Legacy Business Park.

“Legacy West is beautiful architecturally, and everything else. It’s first class,” Karahan says, adding that he understands what Legacy West has done for the entire North Texas community and the State of Texas in terms of jobs and community involvement. 

Karahan notes Legacy West’s impact

Karahan says that Legacy West has created three major impacts on the region:

  • Bragging rights as home to major corporate headquarters;
  • High-paying jobs; and
  • Rising home prices in a healthy housing market.

“The impact of Legacy West is so huge,” he says. “I’m certainly proud of Legacy.”

As for The Shops at Legacy, Karahan says it has a different impact on the community.

“Early on, I learned what deals to make and what deals not to make.”
Fehmi Karahan

“I enjoy creating a place with heart and soul that makes a big difference in people’s lives,” he says. “It’s not an ordinary shopping center. It’s not an ordinary real estate development. It has heart, it has soul, it has character. It’s a gathering place.”

That kind of appeal doesn’t just happen.

“A lot of planning, and a lot of thought goes into that,” he says.

The Shops at Legacy in Plano. [Photo by Lance Murray]

Karahan—who began his real estate career in 1980 working for a fellow Turkish immigrant—operates under a simple, but effective, philosophy in choosing what work he will be involved in.

“Early on, I learned what deals to make and what deals not to make,” he says. “I’m not going to get involved in a real estate transaction unless I firmly believe that it can have the potential to be successful—that I passionately feel that it can be a successful project.”

While Karahan’s first development—an 8,000-square-foot strip center in 1984 on Webb Chapel Road in North Dallas—was small in size, what may prove to be his final development is grand in scale and rooted in North Texas’ ranching history.

Karahan

Fehmi Karahan stands next to a scale model of Legacy West. [Photo by Lance Murray]

Karahan will be working alongside Hunt Realty Partners to develop the massive 2,554-acre Fields development on a site in North Frisco that was once the Headquarters Ranch. The land was bought from the estate of Bert Fields Jr. 

Hunt Realty and Karahan will develop the mixed-use site into commercial, office, retail, residential, and multifamily locations.

In December 2018, the development attracted its first major occupant when the PGA of America announced it would relocate its headquarters to Frisco from Palm Beach County, Florida, bringing with it the potential for major golf tournaments, jobs, prestige, and new technologies to help the sport grow.

The project will have an initial estimated public-private investment totaling more than $520 million and comes at a time when many people thought Karahan might be ready to slow down. But Karahan has a different idea.

“In the last two to three years, I was asked, ‘Fehmi, what’s next?’” he says. Using sports analogies to quantify his success, he went on to say: “My response has been ‘I’ve won the Super Bowl two or three times, or I’ve won the Masters.’”

Then the Fields development came along.

“What attracted me was the sheer size—2,600 acres in a strategic location,” he says. “I felt that this is an incredible opportunity to create something significant.”

It also will give him an opportunity to work with Ray Hunt, who he says is one of the people he most admires.

“I am very fortunate to say what I do is my hobby.”
Fehmi Karahan

Because to Karahan, his relationship with the Ray Hunt family is both a friendship and an opportunity to work.

Another factor weighed in, too, Karahan says: “the city of Frisco’s desire to get me into Frisco.”

Karahan will continue doing what he has loved doing for the past 38 years. It’s not work for him, it’s fun.

“I am very fortunate to say what I do is my hobby,” he says. “I don’t get into things with a fear of losing. I get into things for the joy of winning.”

A version of this article previously appeared in the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

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