Sobered by losses, building owners meet to regroup At convention here, talk is of lower costs

June 29, 1993|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

An old Wall Street joke says the reasons to be in business swing on a pendulum between fear and greed. To judge from yesterday's opening session of the national convention of the Building Owners and Managers Association, the mood of the commercial real estate business is somewhere around "nervous."

BOMA's 86th annual convention is at the Baltimore Convention Center this week, and 2,500 delegates, divided between commercial real estate folks and the vendors who sell them everything from elevators to advice, are concentrating less on mega-growth and more on the mundane issues of mundane times -- hanging on to market share, renovating and servicing older buildings and cutting costs.

"We were very dependent on new buildings, and that went flat," said James Parsnow, a manager for Carrier Corp., an air conditioning manufacturer based in Syracuse, N.Y. "Now, we're seeing the [renovation] market."

And so it went across the exhibit floor at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday. In the morning and early afternoon, exhibitors pitched prospects on how to run lean, improve service and cut costs with a bewildering array of goods and services that cover every part of your office you've ever noticed and about a thousand you haven't.

The afternoon seminars scheduled for yesterday through tomorrow also tilted less to boom than to bust. Building owners could bone up on how to protect themselves if a tenant goes broke, how to profit from other people's bankruptcies and how to check tenants' references.

"Everyone is working as hard as they can to try to maintain market share," said Stephen P. Hokanson, BOMA's outgoing president and head of a real estate firm in Indianapolis.

But things are not so bad for most BOMA members, said the incoming president, Thomas McChesney.

"We're in a less volatile part of the business," said Mr. McChesney, a Pittsburgh-based executive vice president of Grubb and Ellis, a brokerage and consulting firm. "This is about more efficiently serving existing stock. You're not working with people who are speculating."

Indeed, while bad-times seminars dot the schedule, business-as-usual reports on the new Americans with Disabilities Act and on fire preparedness drew bigger crowds yesterday. Mr. McChesney said the seminar on the disabilities law signaled a concern that ranks right with the recession -- namely, regulation.

Lynn Bryant, president of Rehabtech Associates Inc. in Ellicott City, would like to build a business on the disabilities law, one of the most important changes in the building industry. But with the recession still a painfully recent memory, she said, it's slow going.

"Everyone has to comply," she said. "But everyone's attitude is, 'I don't want to know any more than I have to.' There's no extra money for ADA, which is looked at as an add-on [cost]."

Mr. Parsnow said air conditioning companies were looking to capitalize on regulatory changes that demand phaseouts of air conditioning refrigerants called CFCs, which damage the Earth's ozone layer.

The convention itself had a bit of a boom this year, Mr. Hokanson said, in part because it's in Baltimore, a convenient city for real estate people from all over the East Coast. The convention has 340 exhibitors, well above the 270 or so who had been expected. The organizers also had to line up blocks of rooms at three downtown hotels after the reserved rooms at three others sold out.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.