Douglas Development Corporation – Hero or Horse’s Ass?

It seems like nearly every time I nominate a building for a horse’s ass award – it either belongs to or someone references Douglas Development Corporation. Their Web site says:

Since its inception in 1985, Douglas Development has tallied redevelopment successes in the District of Columbia, as well as suburban Maryland and Virginia. Douglas Development has earned a reputation for creating value and a “sense of place” in underdeveloped yet emerging areas. Douglas Development continues to win praise from the press, community leaders, and neighbors for its pioneering work in enhancing communities.

Douglas Development has earned a reputation for trusted stewardship in the redevelopment of historic buildings. Douglas Development is passionate about restoring the pride and history of mixed-use buildings. All members of Douglas Development’s design and construction teams are handpicked by Douglas Jemal, President of Douglas Development, for their abilities to appreciate and preserve the legacy of each historic building. Development project teams include nationally recognized design architects, leading historical consultants, and proven construction managers.

While on this weekend’s walkabout I couldn’t help but notice tons of vacant buildings with the Douglas Development logo on the side – advertising for lease or office space available. There were tons in Chinatown/Penn Quarter (and pictured below the gigantic space near the NY Ave Metro station) not to mention the Wonderbread Factory in Shaw.

More background from the Douglas Development Web site says:

Mr. Jemal branched into real estate in the early 1980’s, purchasing his first parcel at 425 7th Street, NW, in 1981. Since then he has focused on purchasing and developing distinctive commercial properties in urban areas such as: Wonder Plaza (the former Wonder Bread bakery) near Howard University; Jemal’s Park & Shop (on Connecticut Ave, the oldest strip shopping center on the east coast); the historic block of 7th street between G and H streets in Chinatown; and the historic Woodward & Lothrop (Woodies) Building at Metro Center. Mr. Jemal believes in the hands-on approach to development and he is actively involved on a personal basis in the design, construction and leasing of all his properties.

Mr. Jemal is particularly noted for his unprecedented success in preserving historic architecture while transforming properties into viable and successful retail, office and residential sites. Mr. Jemal’s retail background provides him with valuable insight into the needs of the eventual tenant during the construction process, as well as with the proper mix and placement of tenants once leasing commences.

So I’ve heard folks call Douglas Development a savior and I’ve heard folks call them a lot worse. What do you guys think: Does the company preserve “historic architecture while transforming properties into viable and successful retail, office and residential sites” or do they sit on vacant properties for an unreasonable amount of time contributing to the blight of many city streets? Or is it far more complicated than that?

40 Comment

  • it’s not more complicated than that, it’s just that it’s both. you would have been right to say “they preserve historic architecture, transforming properties into viable and successful retail, office and residential sites, while also sitting on vacant properties for an unreasonable amount of time, often contributing to the blight of many city streets.”

    and douglas has only one ‘s’.

  • Jemal doesn’t create the market or financing system, he simply participates in it. He buys low, waits, and sells high. The alternative is what? Knock the buildings down and look at a vacant lot for 5 years until the market and financing come around then build another dime a dozen glass box.

    Another way to ask the question: Is there a finished Jemal project that would get a horse’s ass award?

    • Exactly,

      I am constantly amazed at the supposed inherent genius of most who comment here. Folks like Jemal ride the troughs and crests of the market and considering it is his private money, he can do with it what he wants.

      It isn’t like he buys a building, then holds it off the market for a decade to squat on it. The armchair real estate mavens of this board only know of Jemal, and which buildings are his because he plasters his name and “For Lease”, or “build to suit” on the side of every one.

      Don’t you think, that maybe…just maybe, those buildings sit vacant because no one wants them? That the locations they are in are just still a bit too green for commercial development to wade into the pool?

      No, its easier to think that Jemal is the devil and despite their free ability to do so, that there are legions of private business entities wanting to rent these places and the deal just somehow doesn’t get done.

      Jemal as a person is a prick, and he won’t ever win awards for nicest guy, but that doesn’t make him wrong either.

      Lastly, I’ve lived in DC for a very long time and the armchair real estate experts were saying the same exact thing about Jemal in Chinatown back then too. You would be hard pressed to find a building in a 4 square block area of Chinatown that doesn’t have his name on it, yet you guys don’t seem to be complaining about those.

      • They’re working the system, and you can’t fault them for that.

        But I called the number on the banner on one of their buildings. I’m interested in starting my own business and it would be a good location, though I assume the building in question would need complete rehab, as it’s been vacant for years (decades?). The person I spoke to had no idea how much the rent would be or what would be involved in finding out. So you can’t really say they’re eager to get them occupied, it seems.

        I agree that the buildings will become something someday. But in the meantime, they are eyesores and Douglas isn’t doing a great job keeping them boarded up, free of trash and graffiti, and in non-hazardous condition (have you seen the rope holding the facade on the one on the corner of 7th & L NW?). What irks me is how few of their buildings are on the vacant property list. But readers who want to do something about that (or report other places that are blighted) can look up properties and learn how to report them at http://dc.gov/DC/DCRA/Inspections/Housing+Code+Inspections/Report+a+Vacant+Property/Report+a+Vacant+Property

        • I am sorry, but considering you don’t even know what it is you are looking for, I am not surprised they gave you the brush off. “Starting a business”? They have to know what kind of business you are proposing, and knowledge of your proposed revenue, customer base before assigning a number to rent. Fixing up a building to house a tire store costs a lot less than renovating on of their buildings to house a bar. Along with the costs goes the rent differential. Starting a business? Give me a break.

          What do you know of CAM, lease rates, do you have money to contribute to the build to suit, which all developers charge, what is your monthly rental budget. Do you know irf the zoning is right in that area for your proposed business?

          You really don’t sound as though you thought it through. Calling some leasing agent out of the blue with an undefined business plan and asking “whats your rent” is going to get you the same result of calling up some random contractor and saying “what will it cost me to build a house”? I’d blow you off too.

          • I too called them one day about one of their buildings. I left no less than 10 messages and sent no less than 10 emails to various employees. No one got back to me. I wanted to buy the building outright and told them as much. In one message I simply told them to “give me a number.” No response. The building continues to sit vacant today (5 years after I tried for a month to get in touch with someone).

          • Joker, pardon me for not explaining my entire business plan to you on the internet. I assure you I didn’t call Douglas and say “yeah, I’m thinking of starting…something…don’t know what….”

            I actually have graduate degrees and work experience that would be of use in opening this business and have done my research. A little quick to judge, aren’t you?

  • He was convicted of wire fraud in dealings with the city, but acquitted of bribery charges:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/26/AR2006102600948.html
    Not sure if he ever did any time for it. Doubtful given how connected he is. Just another shady developer IMO.

  • I’d put Jemal squarely in the horse’s ass award. Not just for the buildings but for his business practices too.

  • I like the more light hearted neighborhood topics posted here on PoP, but singling out one developer with which all of us can easily pile on can do more to regress than progress. So here goes my contribution on this topic.

    Say what you will about Douglas Jemal, his partners, and investors, and I’m not one to come to their defense as there’s a lot to be critical of,

    but more simply state what to me is the obvious, but for far too many in this city who do not see, refuse to see, nor understand:

    Privately held real property is what is, privately held,, and more importantly privately sustained, by risk takers in the private sector with which it takes large sums of private capital investment with which to do even the smallest project;

    a private sector that is not only responsible for real job growth and the vital churning of private economic expansion, but the provider for everything, including the public sector.

    It is the private sector that our creativity, our growth, and our prosperity comes from, not the comfortably seated committees of the no risk public sector (local, state and federal government) whose entire subsistence (all of it) comes first from the tax revenues derived from a growing private sector.

    Today in 2010, much has been done to blur the distinction between the two, but it is fundamental economics, and in that context that one should approach evaluating private sector development, hero, horse’s ass, or otherwise.

    Government does not hold title to all of the real property in the District, at least not yet.

  • Historic I Street Synagogue – Doug Jemal

  • i don’t know, but i wish i was as savvy as jamal.

  • It’s complicated. He’s probably the best and most historically sensitive developer DC has seen in the last 60 years. His projects, when completed, are impeccable quality and create vibrant spaces where blight previously existed. He will be looked upon as one of the true revitalizers of DC, particularly for Gallery Place.

    On the other hand, his properties stand (for decades in some cases) blighted with no regard for the surrounding community. Worse yet, he tries to produce additional income by plastering illegal signage and billboards on these buildings. His vacant, blighted properties are able to avoid vacant property taxation due to his numerous connections to DC gov.

    I think ultimately that the pain is worth the gain. If his buildings were thoughtlessly razed and shoddily developed by your average developer, they’d be ready to be torn down in 30 years. His buildings improve the city, its vibrancy, history, and streetscape. Douglas Development even tends to find better than average tenants, when possible, even if it takes a few more years. Ideally he’d learn in his older age that communities deserve better than temporary blight and indifference, so he could be a beloved figure instead of something of a reviled figure in developing neighborhoods.

    But seriously… buildings like the ones at 11th and K could be redeveloped at the drop of a hat. Tenants would line up for the office and retail- no excuse for leaving that a vacant eyesore!!

    • “He’s probably the best and most historically sensitive developer DC has seen in the last 60 years. ”
      =======================================================
      i view that with great skepticism.

    • You know, waited until someone else made the investment in the arena and land grabbed around it, that’s luck, anyone w/ the properties in that area would have prospered.

      I also take offense at creating vibrant structures out of blight. The blight was largely due to his own squatting for 10+ years. Look at the convention area, ALL the blight is solely due to developer squatters like Douglas. Every small property not owned by someone trying to buy a block has been rehabbed and is occupied.

      Look at his treatment of the N. Cap, P, and NY AVE intersection. That huge vacant parking lot, the crumbling buildings on N.Cap & P. If he was truly a visionary instead of a squatter why would he be the last to build in NOMA.

      My last gripe, look at https://www.taxpayerservicecenter.com/, type in a property of his and notice that
      1. no tax recorded since 2008
      2. None of his properties are vacant/blighted.

      If you’re going to squat and force neighbors to look at your crumbling structures, you should be taxed accordingly.

  • another data point for jemal in the “ass” column—property taxes.

    look at the current list of the properties in the tax auction because of owners who are delinquent. you’ll see that nearly every jemal property is on that list. same thing happens every year.

    he’ll pay the taxes just before the auction, always does. but, he’s withholding hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city’s coffers because he can. again, gaming the system.

    the city allows you to pay your taxes late w/o a penalty, and he takes advantage of that to earn extra interest on his money. is it wrong? technically, no. but is it what your average homeowner does—flirting with the deadline to earn a couple extra bucks? the city has been in an economic funk for a while—it could use that tax money (sure, some of you will say “they’ll just waste it anyway”).

    the private property v. public good and responsibility argument is one that i’m not smart enough to debate. jemal donates vacant properties for the fringe festival (or at least provides them dirt cheap). he’s a good guy when it comes to a lot of that. but some of that is window dressing to cover up the fact that he’s holding neighborhood’s hostage to his timeline, and no one else’s.

    • I noticed that when I was scanning the auction list and wondered what the deal was.
      Maybe it’s time we added a penalty – nothing too onerous, say, 5%?

    • IMGoph,

      You haven’t a full understanding of delinquent real property tax collection.

      Our city, as most municipalities and counties, sells to investors tax certificates for unpaid real property tax for each parcel.

      The city collects the tax in full from the investor with the highest bid and guarantees repayment with interest as high as 18% plus a 10% penalty until the certificate is redeemed and paid by the holder of title which happens in most cases or sold at auction.

      So the city never loses and the delinquent tax payer always pays a 10% penalty together with interest accrued to the day of redemption.

  • My question has always been how is he able to game the system to the extent he has? is it because he’s bought the properties sooo cheap that he’s able to sit on them for as long as he has? There are jamal properties that have sat vacant for as long as I’ve been in this city and working in penn quarter…10 years! He does claim to wait in order to bring the best mix of unique retail into the neighborhood. He has done a pretty good job in that area, but then you see the flea market he is allowing at 9th and F (next to the Courtyard) and you wonder what is going on. If he is able to sit on properties, legitimately then I agree with the others in that it is his property and he and do what he wants but I feel like there is some sort of shady scam that is going on that is allowing him to be so “thoughtful”.

  • the first artomatic happened because of jamal.
    granted, that was 10 years ago.

  • Damn, that warehouse/hangar building looks awesome. I’m not sure what would the best use for it, but just looks magnificent and seems like it has great development potential. Indoor year-round farmer’s market? How about a velodrome?

  • Is Douglas just waiting for a Gray administration to be elected so he can get more sweetheart deals from the city? Seemed to be a mainstay of the Barry administration.

  • Jemal certainly works the government as well as he works the real estate market. That said, these things do generally take time, so that when you look at a particular property the horse’s ass eventually becomes the hero. His legacy is shaping up and I believe it is too far on the positive side to even meaningfully debate, which is not to say that he should be immune to criticism or above the law.

  • Anon, he didn’t do artomatic because he’s a nice guy, he did it because he got a HUuuuuuuge tax break. I’ve met a few of the Jemal’s. Norman, Douglas etc. Everytime I shake hands with one of them, I wash my hands with antibacterial soap and disenfectant.

  • We know you watch this blog, so here goes. Please explain why the Douglas properties next to the convention center and the Wonderbread factory are not subject to blight status?

    Here’s a list of properties for starters:
    http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2010/06/horses-ass-award-daisy-building/

  • He deserves the horse’s ass award, based on the wonderbread factory alone.

  • I might just be having an ironic morning, but does anyone else like the Fenty ad right underneath the story about offices and land sitting vacant all over town?

  • Sounds like, given his split of good work and lingering eyesores, Jemal should earn the “Horse’s Half-Ass Award”.

  • What is that building? A train service bay?

  • What about his property at the tip of Ragged Point Rd in Dorchester County MD?

  • No one on this blog has a clue as to what they are talking about. It’s like everyone is crying over sour grapes. The statements in most of these blogs is ridiculous. If you actually knew Doug Jemal, you’d know he’s a classy guy with a passion for developing downtown dc, not making a cheap buck.

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