If you’re looking for B.S., you won’t get it from Beetle Smith. Not only is he reluctant to brag about himself, he weighs his words carefully out of respect and etiquette when speaking about others.
Known among his contemporaries as “Beetle,” Donnell Smith is the “S” in RKS Realty, a local real estate and brokerage firm that specializes in selling and leasing properties between Elkton in Cecil County and Baltimore along the I-95 corridor. When Harford County’s residential development boom of the late ’80s portended the service space boom and the need for realty professionals, Smith opened a satellite office for his friend, Richard “Dickey” Darrell of Commercial Brokerage Group. Darrell’s company was a subsidiary of BTR Realty, which owned Harford Mall and all the land yet to be developed behind it, and he had the listing for that property.
“When we moved up and opened the office, the population of Harford County was only about 120,000 people. Now it’s closer to 230,000. A lot of businesses followed the housing, and they all needed space,” smiles Smith.
Route 24 wasn’t completed yet. Exit 80 of I-95 hadn’t opened. And, APG was still housing soldiers. When the savings and loan failing created a downturn in the economy and commercial leasing, Darrell wanted to close the Harford County office in response. Smith, however, saw the opportunity that lay ahead with the projected 25,000 new homes and decided to stay, joining with Fred Kern and Roger Rice and creating RKS Realty.
“We’ve been here 30 years. There’s no secret to our success. It’s just plain service – helping our clients find the best space available to fit their needs,” says Smith.
Smith hails from the University of Virginia where he studied history, the most reliable looking glass for the future he declares. In his more than 30 years dealing in Harford County real estate, Smith has seen the sculpting of the current County landscape before his eyes.
“We were part of the development of Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, the redevelopment at Water’s Edge with Clark Turner, and the Forest Hill, Riverside, and Bel Air Business and Office Parks. We’ve watched Harford County rise up around us.”
|Current Notable Listings:
• Box Hill Corporate
• Forest Hill Air Park
• Bel Air South
• Hickory Ridge
• Water’s Edge – 4694
Notable Past Projects:
Smith is an active member of the Army Alliance, Havre de Grace and Aberdeen Chambers of Commerce, a past chairman of the board for the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, and current president of the Route 40 Business Association. The Route 40 corridor is an area that Smith has worked hard to cultivate and brand. “We lobbied to get public water and sewer from Edgewood to Joppatowne to help in developing those areas and bringing in the businesses the residents needed. We also supported the beautification projects to help put a new face on this very busy roadway and area. These are good places to live. Sheriff Banes sits on the Route 40 Business Association and will tell you that crime rates are down over the last five years. The population is steady. Good things are happening.
“That’s one reason we did not support the bill that would have introduced additional approval layers for developments over 75,000 square feet – the one meant to keep Walmart out of Bel Air. It’s not that we supported a Walmart at that location, but that bill would have made it harder for any entity to come in and redevelop and take over the old Ames Department Store/Thrift Shop in Edgewood, too. The ripple effect of that bill may have proven detrimental to other development in other areas and we couldn’t support that.”
Smith also led his peers in support of the proposed hotel tax that would have provided funding for a fully functioning convention and tourism department as well as fighting against the increase in tolls at the Hatem Bridge.
Coming full circle, Smith’s former boss Richard Darrell, along with Joe Moran, has joined RKS Realty as they chart a new company direction and expand into national retail capabilities and property management. “This shift complements our core values in staying ahead of industry trends in order to provide the very best for our clients and for the community as we help bring goods and services they want and need locally,” said Smith in a press release announcing the new hires.
Opportunity brought Smith to Harford County and opportunity with success has kept him here. “We’ve been successful because we are honest and we listen. We sit with our clients and try to determine what they really need from a space – not what I want to sell them. Not satisfying their needs today will mean they go elsewhere in the future and that’s not good business,” Smith says.
Smith and RKS Realty don’t turn away clients because they are too small, either. “I started with a little 700-square-foot lease for a company called L3 in the Edgewood Area of APG. I recently re-signed them for a 75,000-square-foot space at The Gate for 10 years. That’s what happens when you look at a client as a long-term investment and not a quick sale. Pier 1 in Aberdeen at over 100,000 square feet was probably my biggest deal in square footage, but I also just negotiated a 6-month, 300-square-foot lease for a small start-up. Like L3, who knows where that may lead.”
Whether they are big projects like Box Hill Corporate Center with 300,000 square feet of office space or a short-term, 300-square-foot lease, Smith eyes their potential through the same lens. “We treat everyone the same. That’s how we do business.” I95