Thanks to its booming oil and gas and defense industries, Fort Worth’s office market is becoming seriously hot property. Want proof? Look no further than CB Richard Ellis, which recently became the first national brokerage firm to open an office in downtown Fort Worth dedicated to the self-proclaimed “Cowtown” market.

That’s a big move even for CB, since it had served the Fort Worth market out of its Dallas office for the past 35 years. To jumpstart the operation, CB snagged Fort Worth tenant rep veteran Frank Ricca away from Staubach Co. to run the show, where his new title is senior vice president and managing director.

“It is critical that we are a fixture in the community and be proximate to our client base,” says Ricca. “We are amazed by the amount of growth and activity we have seen in the market over the past few years.”

He’s not alone. Earlier this year, Moody’s Investors Services issued a high-profile national report ranking Fort Worth as the best central business district office market in the country. The ranking was based on a combination of projected job growth, improving office occupancy and overall economic activity. Metro Fort Worth’s job growth is projected to increase by 2.2% over the next two years, compared to a national growth rate of 1.3%.

After a major tornado in 2000 severely damaged most of downtown Fort Worth’s office buildings, the city has staged a dramatic comeback. Both Pier 1 Imports and RadioShack Corp. completed impressive new corporate headquarters facilities within the city limits in 2004.

Rich Pogue, executive managing director of CB’s Dallas office, says the Fort Worth opening rounds out CB’s market coverage and presents a new opportunity. “We have serviced the Fort Worth market since we formed our office in DFW over 35 years ago. What was missing was the close proximity to these clients. With that said, the Fort Worth office will help us better understand and serve the needs of our clients,” says Pogue.

CB’s newly aggressive stance also mirrors the recent game of high-profile brokerage musical chairs that has enveloped the DFW market in recent months. Over the summer, Studley’s Dallas manager, Greg Biggs, joined Cushman & Wakefield as executive director, Moody Younger moved from Grubb & Ellis to become managing director in Trammell Crow’s institutional property arena, and Tom Pearson left C&W to join Colliers International.

Now a number of local market players think Cowtown is worthy of its own headlines.

“The timing is as good as any for CBRE,” says Jeff Swope, a 30-year veteran DFW market watcher and principal of Dallas-based Champion Partners, a commercial real estate development and investment firm with more than $1.4 billion of completed projects around the country.

“[Fort Worth] might actually lead the country in the next year or two. How they do will depend on leadership and the team they put together. They will need some Fort Worth people to be successful, but the growth in the market should provide all the brokerage companies over there ample opportunities for success,” says Swope.

In other words, CB might not be alone for long. Other national players, including Dallas-based Transwestern Commercial Services, are sniffing for new opportunities in the Fort Worth market, possibly through mergers with local shops.