Realty veteran shows his grit


January 11, 1993|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

The news at first jarred observers who'd grown jaded after two years of layoffs and near-chaos in commercial real estate.

As Baltimore's Casey & Associates announced that it had plucked three top brokers from cross-town competitor CB Commercial Real Estate Inc., the surprise wasn't that the salesmen were leaving CB Commercial. It was that Casey & Associates President J. Joseph Casey -- or anyone, for that matter -- was beginning to expand at all.

"Obviously, I'm an optimist," said Mr. Casey, a 49-year old Homeland resident with an accountant's education but a salesman's heart, whose love of schmoozing could make Bill Clinton seem almost taciturn. "You don't expand if you're a pessimist."

The hires boosted Casey & Associates' sales staff more than 10 percent to 25 people, and the new brokers were high-profile players: Steven Gassaway, best known for representing landlords of downtown office buildings; and Matthew Ryan and Timothy Cahill, top brokers of industrial and warehouse space in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, all from CB Commercial Real Estate Group Inc.

"They're all experienced, highly-thought-of people," said Gary G. Dewey, managing officer of Illinois-based CB Commercial's Baltimore office. "They're good."

Mr. Casey's hires -- and CB Commercial's swift moves to replace two of the three lost brokers -- don't spell any dramatic shift in who's the biggest firm on the real estate block.

Indeed, Casey and CB's local operation each have about 25 sales people.

But they do show some of what Mr. Casey is thinking about the meaning of the recent glimmers of light at the end of real estate's long tunnel and the shape of the post-recession market. It comes down to this: Even as things get better, the market is still a few years away from being really good. Mr. Casey saw his firm as being thin in areas where the slimmer opportunities of the early-to-mid 1990s will be concentrated, and the hires are the beginning of beefing Casey's capabilities back up in key areas. A difficult job, he says, but not impossible.

The moves also show the grit of Mr. Casey, a 28-year real estate veteran with a bachelor's degree earned in eight years of night study. For years, friends and former partners say, he has been trying to build the best commercial brokerage firm in town. Events have often intervened. Now, Sisyphus has his hands on the rock again and is pushing upward.

"I think it's consistent with Joe's plans all through the years," said Thomas Burns, a former partner who is now with the Washington-based firm Carey Winston.

"He just wants to be the best," said David Kornblatt, a Baltimore developer who used to own the company that is now Casey & Associates. "He competes very intensively with Wally Pinkard [the head of competitor W. C. Pinkard & Co. in Baltimore]. . . . It's just his nature."

Even when things were good for the industry, they were rarely uneventful for Casey & Associates. The firm has long been a sort of revolving door as different partners have come and gone. Its name has changed several times as partners went on to other opportunities -- including Milton H. Miller's move to Smithy Braedon Co. and Thomas Burns' shift to Carey Winston Co. in Laurel.

By Mr. Casey's own telling, the defections from 1987 to 1989 left gaps in what Casey & Associates did well.

Mr. Miller, who left in 1989 and remains an inactive stockholder in Casey & Associates, was known for strong relations with downtown office building owners that generated listings. Mr. Burns, and other brokers who, like him, left between four and six years ago, concentrated on leasing and selling industrial and

warehouse space in the suburban counties between Baltimore and Washington.

Neither immediately proved to be fully replaceable. Casey & Associates' most prominent downtown office broker, T. Courtenay Jenkins III, concentrates on representing tenants rather than landlords. Mr. Casey said the firm's top corridor broker, Dick Pettengill, focuses more on office leasing than industrial and warehouse space. But Mr. Casey said his firm needs to rebuild its former strengths.

"Our downtown office has to focus more on property representation. Steve Gassaway's long suit is property representation," Mr. Casey said.

In the corridor, the task is to regain a market position the firm had before Mr. Burns and some of his colleagues left, Mr. Casey said.

"Clearly, if you're going to regain your position, you ask who's the strongest player in the corridor market. It's Ryan and Cahill. . . . Who else are you going to get?"

Mr. Casey's theory about downtown is that, with no downtown office buildings expected to open before the latter part of the decade, the supply of office space will gradually dry up.

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