'Bittersweet moment' for Manekins; Deal with AMB brings 'sort of our swan song'; Commercial real estate


For Bernie and Harold Manekin, the sale of a half-interest in the real estate company they founded more than five decades ago is a mixed blessing.

Sure, the brothers' share of the $140 million-plus sale, including debt assumption, to San Francisco-based AMB Property Corp. won't hurt. Neither will the time away from the hustle and hassle associated with working full time.

Retirement won't just be a day on the golf course, though.

"It's a bittersweet moment for us," 85-year-old Bernie Manekin told a group assembled for an announcement of the sale. "It's a time to savor the joy and glory of what we have done and where we have been. But we also realize that this is sort of our swan song."

For Bernie and his 82-year-old sibling, gone will be the groundbreakings adding to Manekin's 5 million-square-foot commercial portfolio. Gone will be the complex deals like the ones that sparked Baltimore's early 1960s downtown renaissance, the company-involved charitable work, the Center Club lunches, the mentoring of young talent and the general thrill of being a player.

But just as the Manekin brothers' world is changing, so is the real estate world. It is those changes to a more Wall Street-dominated industry that led the developer of the 25-story Charles Center South and office, industrial and retail buildings throughout the state to link up with AMB.

With AMB, a 16-year-old, publicly traded real estate investment trust with access to both Wall Street money and private capital, Manekin should be able to prosper financially. And it will be able to compete more effectively for new industrial and retail projects, the mainstays of AMB's portfolio of $3.5 billion worth of space.

Manekin also will be able to continue developing its own office and other projects, like the 418,000 square feet of office space it is developing for Bechtel Power Corp.'s headquarters in Frederick.

But mainly, linking with AMB will allow Manekin to achieve a key goal it set two years ago, when it first began contemplating a corporate suitor: It will keep the company's 142 employees -- 30 percent of whom have been with Manekin for more than a decade -- intact.

"This is a bricks and sticks business, but behind the bricks and sticks are people," said Richard M. Alter, Manekin's chief executive. "AMB bought yield, cash flow and buildings, but they also bought people."

The company's diversified efforts -- investment, leasing, property management, development and construction services -- will all stay intact, too.

It was that diversification in part that led to the best year in Manekin's 53-year history. Revenue totaled $15 million. More than $100 million worth of new development is under way.

And, while the near loss to lenders of skyscrapers such as the 25-story Crestar Bank Building swirled around them, Alter said, the AMB deal was done from a position of strength.

AMB, which owns the Long Gate shopping center in Ellicott City and 2 million square feet of distribution space locally, will get stronger as a result of the partnering, too. In addition to Manekin's people, the deal will bring into AMB's fold 35 projects containing 1.5 million square feet.

AMB reiterated that it doesn't plan to change what it believes is already working. "Our goal is to really let them run the company themselves," said Bill Steinberg, an AMB vice president. "They do a wonderful job of that."

But even as Manekin the corporation remains the same, Manekin the brothers will shift from day-to-day involvement to more of a consulting role with the company that bears their name.

"We leave the future to you," Bernie Manekin said.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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