Following an exchange of letters regarding the proper role of Big Sky Economic Development Authority (BSEDA), local commercial real estate brokers strongly criticized the practices and the value of what the economic development agency, does at a recent board meeting.
“We have never worked with you and we never will work with you, because we view you as the enemy,” commercial Realtor, Al Koelzer, Billings, told members of the BSEDA and the Big Sky Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “You don’t have very much to offer in the way of incentives, and you are competing with us when you are out showing properties,” Koelzer continued.
Concerned that their comments might lead to what he views as an inaccurate perception of the incentives available through BSEDA, Director Steve Arveschoug says that he sees the conflict as an opportunity to provide local real estate brokers with better information about BSEDA.
“They don’t know the depth of the programs we offer,” said Arveschoug, following a second meeting with some of the Realtors, at which he began an effort to bridge what he sees as a communications gap.
Koelzer was joined by several other local commercial Realtors who voiced concerns.
Realtor –developer, Martin Connell, who is also a member of the East Billings property owner’s organization, Billings Industrial Revitalization District (BIRD), started the conversation saying that members of BIRD wanted to know two things:
—Is BSEDA going to compete with small businesses? That question may need to be answered in a broader sense, said Connell, but BIRD members are especially concerned about whether you are going to compete within the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD).
“We don’t feel that a tax supported organization should be competing with small businesses, said Connell, “because we struggle to survive.”
—He also asked, “Are you going to be in the real estate business? And if you are, are you going to use a licensed real estate broker?”
“It’s more important that you answer the questions,” said Connell, “than what your answer is.”
Connell had earlier posed his questions to Arveschoug in two letters, before bringing them to the board in search of an answer.
Koelzer said that he realized his words sounded harsh but he felt there was “no sense” in mincing words.
Charlie Hamwey, who identified himself as a Realtor with 38 years experience, said, “We appreciate what you do,” but “when you start showing property you need information from the listing agent.”
“We are in the business of selling real estate. You get a pay check, we don’t. [Selling real estate] that’s how we get our money.”
The Realtors indicated that in the past – going back to the days when BSEDA was a “tradeport authority” – real estate agents, in working with the economic development agency, had their clients taken over by the agency and the agents were given a “fee” at a fraction of the what the sale should have generated.
Koelzer said that it doesn’t happen often “but it only has to happen once.”
As long as the practice continues, said Koelzer, “We will not work with you.”
He then added, “We would love to work with you going forward. We are licensed, trained professionals. A lot goes into making a deal and we can do a better job than one of your people can.”
“Between us we can do more cooperative work,” said Mike Oliver, who heads the commercial real estate department for Prudential Floberg Realtors.
Connell said that he didn’t see the conversation as being a negative.
By asking the question, he said, “We are starting to make progress.”
EDA Board Member Jim Gallup pointed out that BSEDA is often approached by clients who want confidentiality. Given the perspective of the Realtors, he said, “We are kind of caught in the middle.”
Hamwey said that they deal with issues of confidentiality all the time. To sign confidentiality agreements is no problem, he said.
Connell recommended that the agency tell people at the outset that BSEDA is not in the real estate business and can’t be of much help without one.
Jeremy Vannatta, the EDA staff member who works most directly with recruiting and retaining businesses, said that he has never shown property without a licensed real estate agent. He said that he passes along information and brochures, and quite frequently makes referrals to licensed professionals. “I think I am doing favors and in doing so our goal is to be a facilitator,” he said.
Gordon Tryan, another BESDA board member, suggested that the commercial realtors have a representative on the EDA board.
Jim Walker, Chairman of the EDC Board, said that he believed that Connell was right. “We don’t perceive ourselves as being commercial Realtors.”
Arveschoug said that he was having a meeting with the Realtors that afternoon and that he wanted to better acquaint them with how BSEDA can be of value to them.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103