The departure of 22-year Hammons Tower tenant BKD LLP has opened up more than 60,000 square feet for other companies to spread out, and recently merged law firm Husch Blackwell Sanders LLP is reportedly looking to do just that.

BKD - the country's 10th-largest accounting firm in terms of 2008 net revenue - has long occupied the bulk of the 22-story tower known for its panoramic views of Springfield and imposing black visage protruding from center city.

Before moving to its new corporate headquarters building across the street from the tower, the sprawling firm occupied six entire floors and portions of two other floors, making BKD the type of office tenant a landlord is loathe to lose. BKD employees start work in their new digs at 910 E. St. Louis St. on Aug. 31.

Mark Harrell, president of Hammons Tower leasing company Plaza Realty & Management Services Inc., said there are no signed tenants for the available space, but some existing tenants are looking to expand, including a major tenant interested in a "multifloor" presence. Harrell declined to identify the company, though other tower tenants say it's the Husch law firm, which occupies the entire 19th floor.

"A formal announcement should be forthcoming in the very near future," Harrell said. "We're having good discussions and productive negotiations on backfilling some of the space."

The tower's larger tenants include Husch Blackwell Sanders, New York Life Insurance Co. and Lowther Johnson Attorneys at Law LLC. Husch Blackwell Sanders managing partners did not deny their possible interest in inhabiting additional floors but told Springfield Business Journal earlier this month they weren't ready to announce plans.

Husch Blackwell Sanders - formed when Kansas City-based Blackwell Sanders LLP and St. Louis-based Husch & Eppenberger LLC merged in early 2008 - has 650 attorneys in 13 cities. In Springfield, the firm has 33 attorneys in two offices; 19 are in Hammons Tower and 14 work at a suite in Corporate Centre, 1949 E. Sunshine St., according to

Hammons Tower's 17th and 18th floors - about 9,300 square feet apiece -- are available for lease at $20.95 per square foot, according to Plaza Realty's Web site, Harrell said the rate includes reserved parking.

"Our tenants are a known commodity when they come in," he added. "We're not going to be giving any space away."

Lease rates for Class A office space at Hammons Tower - along with first-floor space in the BKD headquarters across the street - are among the highest in Springfield, said Tom McLoud, owner and manager of commercial real estate brokerage McLoud & Co. LLC. Opus Northwest LLC, which owns the BKD building, is asking $22.95 a square foot, according to a Sperry Van Ness Rankin Co. listing.

McLoud noted that Class A office space, which he said varies greatly in definition from city to city, goes for about $17 a square foot on Springfield's south side. Suite space he has listed at Corporate Centre, home to Husch Blackwell's second office, falls within that range.

Recent construction of two major office complexes - the BKD building and the new Mercy Health Plans headquarters on South National Avenue - have significantly contributed to a local office-space surplus at a time when many companies aren't looking to expand, McLoud said.

"I think we'll probably have the highest vacancy rate we've had in quite some time," he said. "In a major metropolitan area, 90,000 to 100,000 square feet is not a lot. In Springfield, that's a lot of (office) space to bring onto the market at the same time."

Harrell, though, is optimistic about what lies ahead for Hammons Tower. He said three small- to midsize law firms with offices in the tower have inquired about additional space.

Craig Lowther, a partner with Lowther Johnson Attorneys at Law, said his firm is looking at possibly reconfiguring its leased space in the tower. Lowther Johnson has the entire 20th floor and half of the 12th floor, which could be relocated to another floor higher in the tower, said Lowther, who had heard about Husch Blackwell's interest.

Plaza Realty is marketing the property through the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and other business-to-business channels.

"This is just going to be a new opportunity to accommodate other tenants within the Hammons Tower, because we just have not had any significant amount of space available to offer to tenants of interest for probably eight or 10 years," Harrell said.

Plaza Realty isn't offering special incentives to attract tenants, but Harrell said the leasing company pays for most remodeling expenses. Office space at the tower is a good fit for law firms, insurance agencies and other professional offices looking to be closer to city and county government offices or to establish a prominent downtown presence, he added.

"The only thing that we'll be missing is a good accounting firm," Harrell joked.