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VOL. 126 | NO. 57 | Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Commercial Council Has Shaped CRE Landscape

By Sarah Baker

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The Memphis Area Association of Realtors’ Commercial Council is often the first trade organization that comes to mind when considering the local commercial real estate industry.

Something perhaps less commonplace, however, is the history of the group’s founders, and their vision to connect professionalism with the community.

“It helped unify the direction of the commercial professionals in town and allowed any issues to be worked on in a group setting rather than different people individually,” said Irvin Skopp, vice president and asset management director at Belz Enterprises Inc., founding board member and past president of the council.

For more than a century, the majority of MAAR’s members have been residential brokers. Moreover, the bulk of MAAR’s programs and services – like the Multiple Listing Service – addresses the needs and issues of the residential brokers.

Commercial brokers were originally an important facet of MAAR, and for many years they participated in the organization through leadership roles and committee involvement. But during the 1990s, MAAR’s membership declined, primarily because there was no commercial multiple listing service that was available to residential brokers, said Joe Steffner, president of the Memphis office of Grubb & Ellis Co.

“There was a forerunner to the Commercial Council called the Commercial Committee, which served commercial brokers for many years, but was not deemed to be impactful in representing the needs of commercial brokers,” he said.

In 2003, it was determined a standalone board was the best way to provide solid representation for commercial members and to recruit commercial members into MAAR.

“It helped unify the direction of the commercial professionals in town
and allowed any issues to be worked on in a group setting rather than
different people individually.”
– Irvin Skopp,
Vice President and Asset Management Director at Belz Enterprises Inc.

Steffner was elected president of the newly formed Commercial Council in 2004 and charged with recruiting commercial firms to be members of the new council. The three members of the original Commercial Council – Steve Guinn, Jim Rainer and Steffner – decided that an additional “hook” was needed to accrue commercial members.

The trio determined that the right vehicle was an awards program that honored the largest producing commercial brokers. This event had already begun, in 2002, preceding the official formation of the council, and was called the Pinnacle Awards.

Once the annual awards ceremony was in place, the recruitment of commercial members was successful and soon about 90 percent of Memphis’ commercial real estate affiliates were members. Membership has remained at this level since that time, and includes about 350 affiliates of the commercial real estate industry, including commercial developers, brokers, property managers and bankers.

“A lot of the times, we’re sitting on opposite sides of the table in our everyday job, and so it just provides a forum to get to know each other, promote professionalism and integrity,” Rainer said. “We said we want to create something here that people want to be a part of, and that’s exactly what happened.”

In 2008, MAAR Commercial Data Exchange, or CDX, was created. This service, powered by Xceligent, is similar to the MLS in that it includes listings and sales information valuable to commercial agents.

“CDX is real important; that’s a technological improvement that has really helped a whole lot,” said Joel Fulmer, senior vice president of Boyle Investment Co., founding board member and past president of the council. “There were versions of that before, but they had either gone away or they had gotten so incredibly expensive that it was difficult to use them, so this is a tremendous service that the mother organization of MAAR is providing to all of the commercial people.”

Candidates for the board are nominated and elected by the commercial real estate community at the annual Commercial Council election in August, and the new board members take office the following January. The board also includes a member of the MAAR board and the local chapter presidents of MAAR’s Commercial Institute Affiliates – CCIM, IREM, SIOR and RLI.

In addition to the Pinnacle Awards, the council organizes education and other recognition programs throughout the year, including the annual Commercial Property Forecast Summit in February.

While the commercial real estate climate has undoubtedly changed over the last decade, the organization’s founders remain a fundamental piece to the platform they established years ago.

“All of us remain very, very interested to the extent that we’re happy to volunteer time or encouragement,” Fulmer said. “There’s been such a continuing, strong group of leadership that that’s all we’re really required to do is encourage.”

The Commercial Council will host this year’s Pinnacle Awards ceremony April 7 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave. Winners will be announced in the April 8 issue of The Daily News and the April 9 issue of The Memphis News.

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