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[IMGCAP(1)]DALLAS-The Greater Dallas CRE industry, duking out another down time, is putting on boxing gloves to flex its muscle much like it did 20 years ago. Amid rising economic similarities between then and now, The Real Estate Council, known as TREC in North Texas, once again has landed an all-star card–Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran–to mark its milestone FightNight year.

In the past 19 years, $16.4 million has been raised for charities. FightNight 2008 will honor all past chairmen, the ringmasters of a black-tie event created to bring the industry together during the tough times and a community give-back with a long-lasting effect. The prestigious event, as it has since 1994, will be held May 1 at the Hilton Anatole at 2201 Stemmons Freeway.

The memories of the late 1980s are still vivid in the minds of Dallas/Fort Worth’s brokerage circle. It was a time of dissension between the industry and Dallas City Council; a time of disarray due to the savings and loan debacle; and a time when all too many CRE professionals went from millionaire to bankrupt and see-through buildings were commonplace.

As TREC readies the stage for its 20th annual FightNight, the metroplex’s CRE professionals stand united in today’s uncertain markets due in part to a foundation laid two decades ago. “The real story for me is there had never been an opportunity to pull everyone in the industry together into one collective action,” Jeffrey L. Swope, principal of Dallas-based Champion Partners Ltd., tells GlobeSt.com. “It wasn’t a question of winning or losing. It was a question of finding a unified and consistent voice for the real estate community. To me, that’s what is so unique about FightNight.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Swope and veterans Robert Kaminski, now owner of Kaminski Interests Inc. in Dallas, Jesse Pruitt, partner and principal of Dallas-based CMC Commercial Realty Group, and the late Steven A. Means, founder of Means-Knaus LP in Houston, were huddled over ways to unite CRE professionals in the local chapters of several national industry organizations to forge a united front for dealing with issues before Dallas City Council. “The voice of the commercial real estate industry was not being heard,” Swope says.

Means had been to a boxing fund-raiser in a Houston hotel, put the idea on the table and the four veterans brain-stormed the genesis of today’s hallmark event, which has since been mimicked in many other US cities. “It’s amazing to me just how many people were down and out and still so many rented tuxes and came out. The times were so difficult,” Swope says.

The first year’s goal was to sell 40 tables, 10 people at each, to generate $2,500 per table. The drive grossed $175,000 from table and raffle sales. Eighty tables were sold and 24 were comped. The first boxing card featured welterweight champion Curtis Cokes, now a boxing coach in Dallas, with subsequent years producing autograph-signing appearances by champions from all weight classes, including Muhammad Ali in 1990.

[IMGCAP(3)]“I can remember I had Ali for one entire day and I didn’t know what to do with him so I took him to business meetings,” Kaminski says, recalling one with Barry Henry at Trammell Crow Co. He says the receptionist asked their names, he told her and she relayed the message unfazed. Kaminski says he remembers Henry thought it was a joke, came out and stopped in his tracks when he saw the boxing icon.

Until 1993, FightNight was staged at the Fairmont Hotel at 1717 N. Akard St. in the Downtown’s Arts District, moving to the Anatole as the crowds grew larger. Last year, 2,200 professionals attended a fund-raiser that grossed $1.64 million and Lennox Lewis at ringside.

Kaminski says FightNight is rife with Urban Myth. The event was created “sans spouse” so it would be a business meeting with networking instead of a social event, he says. “It was set up in a manner that we could control business networking.”

It’s also a myth that evening gown-attired women were straight from the streets of Dallas. “It is an Urban Myth and that’s with a capital ‘u’ and capital ‘m.’ I would know because I was in charge,” says Kaminski, who oversaw programming while Swope tackled sales.

As with any first production, there were hitches: the lights went out, forcing the Texas Boxing Commission to halt the fight midway through the match. Kaminski spotted a table of electrical contractors and pleaded for help as the crowd partied in the nearly dark room. He says they removed a wall panel, climbed in and came out saying they could restore the lights, but some place else in the Fairmont would lose power. “I said ‘do it.’ I have never heard where in the Fairmont Hotel that we took the power off,” Kaminski says.

Just like his Kappa Alpha Fraternity brother from the University of Texas, Kaminski too remains in awe of FightNight’s sustainability. Initially, the funds went into a coffer to support CRE battlefronts. After “two or three years,” he says pro bono work and a growing pool of funds drove the decision to donate a large portion of proceeds to local charities.

“It’s a reinvestment in our community of capital, time and resources,” Kaminski says, adding his strongest memory as a co-founder is “the success of it, how much fun it was and how chaotic it was.”

Then, like now, Swope and Kaminski point out that there was a liquidity crisis and strapped financial times. As in days gone by, Dallas isn’t down for the count. “People are still going to make their 501(c)(3) charitable donations,” Swope says. “It’s so gratifying that this has become such a tremendous fund raiser and a give-back to the community.”

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