The nation was just emerging from the depths of an economic crisis in 1991 when Martha Mangum was asked to help lead a battered real estate industry into the future.
Since then, Mangum has served unceasingly as the first executive director of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio (RECSA), the foremost voice for developers and others working in a sector that has an estimated impact on the city’s economy of $38.2 billion a year.
Mangum recently announced she plans to retire after 30 years with the organization. RECSA has named Stephanie Reyes, former vice president of public policy at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, to succeed her.
As Mangum gets set for retirement, RECSA President Brad Carson acknowledged her long tenure and accomplishments. “There is only one Martha Mangum,” Carson said, “and it would be a fool’s errand to look for her clone.”
RECSA represents owners and professionals in the commercial real estate industry and provides education and information to develop industry leaders. It represents 250 member firms and more than 1,100 individuals.
Founded in 1991 with about 200 members, the group early on confronted what it saw as a growing number of regulations affecting developers and a maze of City processes that made it challenging to do business.
“Well guess what? The best way to try to resolve this is to communicate,” Mangum said. “So as the years have gone by, we have formed groups to meet separately with [city and county departments] that our members work with … to make sure we have a streamlined process [and] certainty in the process.
“We don’t just get together and do happy hours or lunches or whatever,” she added. “We’re an advocacy group.”
The Dallas-born Mangum earned a degree in education from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a teacher until the early 1980s when she went to work for developer Walter Embrey, founder of Embrey Partners, in San Antonio.
Embrey was involved with other local developers in the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), and after Mangum’s son was born in 1984, she helped Embrey start a San Antonio chapter of NAIOP, the first chapter in the nation, according to Mangum.
After the late-1980s real estate crash, Mangum said that Embrey, along with La Quinta Inns founder Philip Barshop and others, realized there was a need for a more locally focused organization, and asked Mangum to help form RECSA shortly after her daughter was born. She was named executive director of the organization.
Today, her job at RECSA involves helping the group’s members understand city ordinances and processes. She also aids city, CPS Energy, and San Antonio Water System officials in understanding the impact of proposed ordinances to ensure they work well for both the city’s residents and the developers. She and other organization leaders meet regularly with City staff.
“Now, that’s not to say everything’s perfect,” she said. “That’s not to say that we always agree with the city or they always agree with us, but at least we communicate.”
In fact, the relationship between municipal government and the developer community was once very contentious, said Assistant City Manager Rod Sanchez, who has been employed with the City of San Antonio for 28 years. But that changed with Mangum’s leadership, he said.
“We’ve been able to build a really, really good relationship,” Sanchez said. “We’re able to meet with this group and share with them our thoughts and get their thoughts. We come up with really great solutions because we’ve built this great relationship and Martha is the center of that.”
Sanchez described Mangum as a passionate advocate who leaves “big shoes to fill” simply because of her long history with RECSA. She has been a part of major changes in how the city manages growth and development, including the creation of a tree ordinance, the Unified Development Code, and the City’s Development Services Department.
Grow and prosper
On her watch, Mangum has seen San Antonio’s commercial real estate sector grow into a multibillion-dollar industry that employs 143,000 people and generates $263 million in local tax revenue, according to a study by Jon Hockenyos, president of the Austin-based public policy firm TXP.
“I think San Antonio’s got a fantastic future,” Mangum said. “I think the people who are involved in our industry have been responsible in development. We’re obviously still growing [and] we’ve responded to the demand; we are focused on affordability.
“[San Antonio developers] are invested here and want to see San Antonio continue to grow in a responsible manner and prosper.”
Mangum is proud of her efforts to create the organization’s leadership development program, designed for early-career professionals under age 40, which went on hiatus last year due to the pandemic. She extended her retirement date from June to the end of September in order to get the program going again in 2021-22. After retiring, Mangum plans to spend more time with her family.
“It’s kind of funny because I’m now seeing the second generation or third generation” leading family-owned development firms in San Antonio, Mangum said. “It’s really been fun to see the change in various organizations and the next generation coming up to lead it.”
One of those is RECSA member Trey Dawson, senior vice president of Pape-Dawson Engineers and grandson of company founder Gene Dawson Sr.
“Martha’s impact on the San Antonio real estate community is so far-reaching that the true impact of her dedication to the industry will never be fully known,“ Trey Dawson said.
His father, Gene Dawson Jr., president of Pape-Dawson, echoed that sentiment: “Martha has been a consistent, passionate voice for the commercial real estate industry for 30 years. Her leadership will be missed.”