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Erwin Greenberg & Brian Gibbons

Jan 29, 2014 10:51AM ● By Cate Reynolds
There's been quite a bit of luck in our success,” 86-year-old Erwin Greenberg says with a grandfatherly drawl and air of modesty. As founder and chairman emeritus of the Greenberg Gibbons development team, this bowtied real estate dynamo has helped shape Anne Arundel County’s commercial landscape. On a brisk but bright fall day, I meet him at company headquarters, along with the firm's current face of operations, CEO Brian Gibbons, to discuss their influence throughout our communities and how it all came to be.

“Well, I’d say we created our own luck,” Gibbons offers with a confident smirk. And so it goes between the two—a conversational see-saw between the elder Greenberg and debonair Gibbons built upon mutual respect for one another and a partnership, now entering its 15th year, that’s responsible for such developments as the Village at Waugh Chapel in Crofton/Gambrills and the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole.

Inside their modern headquarters, it’s easy to see the duo’s success paying off in spades. A lobby wall boasts a baker’s dozen of mirror-polished shovels, each signifying the groundbreaking and subsequent completion of a commercial development. The conference room exhibits top-shelf décor, all encased in floor-to-ceiling windows that abut the wood line. And though the dress code is a grade above business casual on this day, make no mistake—it’s Brooks Brothers on the shirt tag, not H&M.

But this success didn’t come quickly, nor easily, and, in fact, did involve some luck—both bad and good—as Greenberg explained. About 50 years ago, in the wake of his first wife’s death and unexpectedly becoming a single father to an infant, Greenberg stepped up to life versus backing down. He had to shine. With a keen intellect and silver tongue, Greenberg parlayed his modest savings into a small real estate development company (founded in 1968) to be anchored by his very first prospect—a derelict Owings Mills strip shopping center. His success as a developer would hinge on this one deal.

Turns out, Greenberg played his cards right. He developed the retail property, transformed it into a money-maker, and the road to success was paved. “Right time, right place,” Greenberg offers with sincerity.

Fast-forward about 30 years. Greenberg wanted to take his company to the next level and that’s when, in 1999, Gibbons joined the team, taking the management reins and elevating the business to new heights. The first, and probably proudest, accomplishment of the Gibbons era is the Village at Waugh Chapel, a mixed-use development that’s in its final stage of completion. It took a financial partnership with Prudential to get it off the ground, and in the 10-plus years of Waugh Chapel’s growth, it has become a community hub of commerce, entertainment, dining, and residences.

“Seeing the entire development come together and become something the community truly appreciates, uses, and even lives within, has been remarkable. I think I’m most proud of Waugh Chapel because it was the first project I worked on. It proved we had a winning formula,” Gibbons says.

The Waugh Chapel project certainly established their reputation in Anne Arundel County, but it was the Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole that cemented it, as a local leader in the development and property management industry. The Annapolis Towne Centre (ATC) has become the crown jewel of mixed-use development in our county with 2,000,000 square feet of retail, office, and lifestyle space. It also provides a windfall of tax revenue, upwards of $9 million annually.

The revitalization of Parole—a once-thriving shopping center in the 1950s–’70s turned unoccupied eyesore by the 1990s—was nothing short of amazing. Early negotiations between county officials and Greenberg Gibbons were enthusiastic but skeptical. The county had these talks before, as early as the late-’90s, with the original property owners and a myriad of other developers. But broken promises, financial challenges, and differing opinions had killed any proposal.

Brian Gibbons brought something different to the table. “We acquired the deed to the property,” says Gibbons, while holding up a mock piece of paper. Greenberg Gibbons effectively delivered property rights, financing, and a development team—an all-in-one package—to the county. With community education and support, including intense scrutiny of its environmental impact and planned safeguards to protect the surrounding habitat, the development plan was approved and shovel was put to dirt. During the course of its construction, ATC created 2,800-plus jobs. “I remember on one particular site visit, walking the grounds, and being approached by several crew members who asked us who we were,”

Gibbons recalls. “I told them, ‘I’m the manager.’”

“Manager of what,” they asked. “Manager of the entire thing,” Gibbons says, laughing. “To think that we were creating all of this, with almost 3,000 employees on site—that’s amazing.”

Indeed, Erwin Greenberg and Brian Gibbons have created much more than renowned developments. Through their work, they’ve fostered community, driven our local economy, and shown the blueprint to fulfilling one’s dreams. Their philanthropic endeavors should also be noted. In addition to serving on the boards of Hospice of the Chesapeake (Gibbons) and St. John’s College (Greenberg), the company recently bestowed a $300,000 endowment to the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, which was distributed to the parent-teachers organizations of the 12 public schools surrounding the Waugh Chapel development—further testament to this duo’s investment in the community by creating more than a bit of luck for others.

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