The Resolution Trust Corp. has selected Emerson International to handle the management and disposition of 109 foreclosed office, medical and multifamily properties in California, Oregon and Washington, all assets of failed savings and loans.

Emerson, a real estate services firm based in Salt Lake City, won the $151 million contract over some 300 other RTC-approved firms nationally and is the first, and so far only, Utah company to be selected, said Stephen B. Terry, president. The portfolio represents commercial properties taken from 17 failed West Coast S&Ls.The RTC is the federal agency set up to dispose of the assets of hundreds of failed savings and loans across the country. Federal regulators have proposed to sell or close 192 failed S&Ls in coming months with assets totaling some $119 billion.

Bill Sylvestre, director of contract management and asset operations for the RTC's Western Region office In Costa Mesa, Calif., said Emerson won the contract following lengthy interviews and reference checks. Emerson, though based in Salt Lake City, already has offices in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Phoenix; Las Vegas and affiliate offices in Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo.

The contract is for three years. RTC spokesman Larry Knopf said the agency wants Emerson to manage and find buyers for the West Coast properties. "As assets are successfully sold, we will replace them with other assets which will flow from defunct savings and loan associations which we are regularly closing," said Knopf.

Terry said his company plans expansion into Denver; Seattle; Vancouver, Canada; Honolulu; South Korea; Bangkok, Thailand; Jakarta, Indonesia; Singapore; and Sydney.

"Emerson is remarkably well structured and positioned to provide the asset management and sales functions required by the RTC," said Terry. The RTC Reporter says Emerson should earn $3.1 million from the three-year contract.

Emerson focuses on commercial real estate investments - apartment complexes, offices and retail buildings - valued in the millions of dollars and provides investors with market and asset research, asset and property management and brokerage.

Emerson was initially among a pool of 40,000 approved contractors nationwide. The RTC's Costa Mesa office whittled the list to 300 and then to 25. The final contract was approved last month.

Terry, involved in real estate as a property manager since 1976 with CFS and Prowswood, went out on his own in 1983 and launched Emerson (named by Terry, an English major in college, for essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson) Realty and Management.

To reflect the company's growing Pacific Rim involvement, the name was changed in 1989 to Emerson International. Those contacts stem from years spent in Korea and Vietnam as a young man (his father was military) and two years in China as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Terry started out in the real estate business doing research, he said, and that led to management. Then clients began asking for buy/sell services and that led to the brokerage.

But Emerson is strictly a for-fee operation, he stressed. The company owns no real estate and never will.

"We have a law, an edict, that says we can't own real estate; that would be a conflict of interest for clients who would wonder, rightfully, if we were managing their properties as well as our own," said Terry. "We intentionally turn down opportunities to buy for ourselves."

Some might look at those receiving RTC contracts as carpetbaggers, swooping down to take advantage of someone else's bad luck. Terry disagrees.

"We don't look at it that way. We have been in business a decade and went through the good times of the '80s when everyone was making money until the tax reforms of 1986 cut the industry off at the knees. Real estate no longer had advantages over stocks and bonds, and no one knew what the tax laws meant so unsophisticated investors got out."

Then came the collapse of the S&Ls, mostly under the weight of non-performing real estate loans. "We watched them die and we wanted to help," said Terry. "They (S&L executives) were lenders, not operators. They just looked puzzled. So, we see ourselves as solving the problem, not capitalizing on it. If we can make some money for the RTC that means less that has to be taken from the taxpayer."

Terry said the threat of war in the Persian Gulf over the past five months has not impacted Emerson much, although he noted it has created a "passivity" among investors. But whether there is peace or war, properties still have to be managed and managing properties is Emerson's business.

Among the properties Emerson manages locally are Brickyard Plaza, retail development, at 3300 S. 1300 East; Springs of Country Woods at 900 East and 7200 South; and Fairways, 900 West and 4700 South, the county's largest apartment community.

Thomas W. Whitney, vice president of commercial operations, said Emerson will be adding additional jobs due to the RTC contract and will be expanding the 8,000 square feet of office space it currently occupies at its headquarters, 102 W. 500 South.