As we hit yet another “fiscal cliff,” I’m reminded of many of the failed or forgotten political stories of 2012. Remember all the talk of “the 1 percent”? Of course, that topic makes me think of Mitt Romney and how he was vilified for his business success during his run for the Presidency.
I used to work on Wall Street during the late ’80 and early ’90s; in that time I heard of Mitt Romney on more than one occasion. What is funny though, is that it was not his business acumen I’d hear about, but rather, his penchant for charity. Now, I think Mitt ran an atrocious campaign, as exemplified by his electoral college drubbing, but, I never thought it quite fair the way he was categorized as a greedy capitalist. By example, one of the few stories along this line to make it into the news was the story of the daughter of one of Mitt’s partners. Long story short, she went missing in New York one weekend and, in response, Mitt closed the office and flew the company out to form search parties for the girl. I believe his office was closed for two days.
To me, this is the act of a loving friend and father, not of some greedy capitalist fiend. In fact, over my many years in finance and investment, no matter how low a tax rate they may advocate, I’ve met very few “1-percenters” who weren’t and aren’t some of the most charitable people I know. This is often missed by the media, as the “low taxes=greed” story writes itself, and “us versus them” politics always sells ad space.
This got me to thinking about charity in Dallas. Over the 15 years I’ve lived here, the “1 percenters” have been very kind to this city. I’ll recall only a few …
First, the Nasher Sculpture Center. With more than 1.5 acres of outdoor viewing area on top of an 10,000-square-foot indoor gallery, the center introduced a kinetic energy previously missing from our Arts District. Then came both the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and Klyde Warren Park. If you have not been to the museum yet, it may be due to the throngs of people who got in line before you. As for the new park, on any given day, you will see more people in the park than at any given time on Bryan Street, which happens to boast more DART stops than any other street downtown.
Of course, this is not meant to overlook previous contributions like The Crow Collection of Asian Art , Cancer Survivors Plaza, or announced future contributions like the Texas Music Museum, and my very own Spire Realty Group Children and the Arts Foundation events.
Continuing this line of thinking, I started to reflect on the charitable givings of the real estate community. Obviously, I’ve already named a few real estate names. It occurred to me that the real estate community is a very charitable and giving business community in Dallas, probably more so than any other industry. And it’s the brokerage firms within our industry that carry most of the weight in that regard.
I was amazed when I first moved here over how many charitable golf tournaments these firms hosted. Over the years I’ve attended several for The Rise School as well as others that benefitted children’s charities. Elizabeth Toon Charities and The Clayton Dabney Foundation for Kids, both of which started out of personal tragedy, have become household names among those in real estate. Now that the country has been at war for more than a decade, many organizations benefiting veterans have been started as well.
All of this leads me to why I’m writing this post today. During the past two months, I’ve seen a resurgence in charitable programs coming out of real estate. I had feared that the bad economy might, at least temporarily, quash this spirit, and rarely am I so glad to be wrong. In February alone, I’ve been asked to contribute to at least two overseas housing charities benefiting the underprivileged in Africa, had a meeting on the future operational funding of Klyde Warren Park, received invitations for charitable events benefiting two different schools, and received a plethora of requests to join groups who are in various stages of forming charities.
Last year, we saw the formation of the Urban Armadillos along with several other civic-minded charities, which will continue to grow their presence and work throughout this year and future years. The interesting thing about this dynamic, and to bring my story full circle, is that the brokers of our industry are arguably the “1 percenters” of the real estate community. (Some of you will dismiss that idea, but the truth is that, from an investor’s/owner’s perspective, the real estate market in Dallas has been very tumultuous over the years, ebbing and flowing with rates artificially depressed in most submarkets most of the time; it’s only the brokerage business that has remained profitable.)
The one thing missing from this resurgence of charitable giving is most of my fellow landlords. I certainly understand that the ebbs and flows of profitability for landlords. This should not however, relieve the profitable buildings from participating in the fabric of the city. With this in mind, I encourage each prospective tenant and broker to ask the landlords about the local charities they support. If the answer is that they don’t participate in local charities, then I leave it up to you. Do you want to work with a taker or a maker?
Caleb Smith is president and owner of Spire Realty Group LP. Contact him at email@example.com.