In its loudest statement yet that it wants to be a more vocal player in shaping the area it serves, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors announced that it is giving $250,000 to the Greater Baltimore Alliance.
The "investment" in the GBA, an organization of private and civic leaders formed to promote Baltimore and its surrounding counties, will be $50,000 a year for the next five years. It is the largest gift by the board to any one organization.
"To me, this is one of the things that I am most proud of that I got the board to do," said Gilbert D. Marsiglia, outgoing president of the board of Realtors. "I really believe that it is important for everybody to get behind the GBA, to bring business into this region, this state. If it doesn't survive, then we don't do well."
According to Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, no other Realtor board in the country has made such a commitment to an organization such as the GBA.
"I was surprised," she said. "I didn't expect this level of commitment. I haven't experienced this in the past, nor have ever heard of this level of commitment from a professional board of Realtors. I'm very impressed."
Marsiglia will now have a seat on the GBA's board of directors, putting him in a position to effect economic changes that relate to the Baltimore region.
When he took office as president of GBBR last October, Marsiglia said one of his main goals was to awaken the board from years of being a passive trade organization and make it more active and politically savvy.
"We spent the whole year working very hard in cultivating those political relationships, and I think we are in a position to be a big help," Marsiglia said.
He asked GBBR Executive Vice President Joseph T. Landers, formerly a Baltimore councilman and key aide to City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, to set up meetings with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
"We walked in and said, 'We're here to help you' to the mayor and to Dutch," Marsiglia said. "And honestly, not a lot came out of those meetings from us coming to them.
"What came out of those meetings was the GBA. Had the GBA not existed, I'm not sure the mayor knew what to do with us. I don't know if Dutch knew what to do with us. What I do know is that we had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, a lot of energy to do something. But we didn't know what to do."
Marsiglia did set up meetings with the GBA in March and then went back to the GBBR board to gain support.
For Landers, the GBA seemed to be a perfect vehicle for repositioning the Realtor group.
"I think it is the difference between sitting back and reacting to what the future brings versus helping to mold the future," he said. "I think that's where our people are now. Instead of positioning ourselves to react to what happens in the future, we can play a role in deciding the outcome.
"One of the things that Gil did was put together a group of people -- past presidents and other volunteers on the board -- and sell the concept. While everybody supports it conceptually, stepping up to the plate and putting money out that's another question."
Besides raised eyebrows about the monetary contribution, Marsiglia met other resistance. In a world where leads and contacts can increase the volume and profitability of business, other brokers wondered if Marsiglia would have an edge on them by sitting on the board.
"I had to convince these people that I was there for the benefit of the industry, not for myself," Marsiglia said.
"Very honestly, I said to the board that any time you get involved, any time that you become part of something, there is always a benefit to you, and I can't help that. I think there was a lot of gnashing of teeth about that."
But Marsiglia and Morfessis said that a plan is being formulated so that brokers will be "treated fairly" on a rotating basis. Morfessis added that a system is already in place for commercial brokers.
"Parity is really important to us," Morfessis said. "And our reputation is important to us; it's the only thing we have to trade on in this city."
According to Donna Gubba, the alliance's director of investor relations, the organization is having conversations with the Home Builders Association of Maryland as well as the real estate boards in Anne Arundel and Howard counties.
O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. and Coldwell Banker Realty have contributed to the GBA, but Marsiglia said it's his intention to get individual Realtors and brokers to join as well.
"This concept [of the GBA] is new," said Landers. "Basically, in the past you had fragmented economic development approaches. This is the entire region coming together to market itself with the support of all the political leaders of the region and HTC investing in it. In the past there was a lot of lip service but they really weren't together. This is the first time it all really has come together."
Said Marsiglia: "The important thing is that the economy in this state does well. Eventually, it will all filter down to all of us."
Pub Date: 10/25/98