George D. Stamoulis, a Greek immigrant and mechanical engineer, held out for years.
He ignored the offers of Akridge, one of the District's biggest developers, which wanted to buy his small parcel of land at the corner of 11th and I streets NW. And he rejected the pleas of broker Tom Rossi of CB Richard Ellis.
Robert H. Braunholer, left, and George D. Stamoulis talked for months about how Stamoulis's District property might be developed.
(Len Spoden For The Washington Post)
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Tied up in the land were Stamoulis's own emotional memories of his family getting swindled by land speculators, his mother being forced to amputate wounded soldiers' limbs after the Germans invaded Greece, and the death of his uncle, who owned the land.
But last month, after more than a year of being wooed at Caribou Coffee in Silver Spring, Stamoulis signed a deal. He will lease his 3,600 square feet of land for an undisclosed sum to Louis Dreyfus Property Group, a real estate subsidiary of a French holding company.
The story of how that deal came about and the complicated tales behind the sale of two other pieces of land near the same corner of downtown Washington show a less visible side of the commercial real estate world -- one where developers find themselves involved in long, complex negotiations with individuals who are emotionally attached to plots that are small but critical to multimillion dollar projects.
The plot next door to Stamoulis was the center of a similarly drawn out series of negotiations. It was owned by George Basiliko, the son of Greek immigrants, who turned down numerous offers from potential buyers, until this summer, when he signed a deal to sell his 28,500 square feet site to Louis Dreyfus.
Across 11th Street sits another parcel of land developers have been after for years. The family of Jan Evans -- heir to the well-known Heurich estate which made its name in the brewing business -- recently sold to developer Tishman Speyer, a deal that took some time to negotiate because it involved 20 different families.
Developers say they tried in past years to cut deals with Stamoulis, Basiliko and the Heurich estate, but the hurdles were too significant to be worth the effort. Recently however, MCI Center and new convention center have made this area -- once home mainly to parking lots and pawn shops -- extremely desirable. So developers pushed harder, agreed to bend more and worked patiently through the unique concerns of these landowners.
"It takes the right timing, persistence, understanding what the needs of the seller are, understanding the property and its value. And it takes a buyer who wants it. A lot of people don't have that kind of patience," said Rossi, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis.
An Uncle's Legacy
One recent evening, the 55-year-old Stamoulis sat in the same Caribou Coffee shop where he had meet with the vice president of Louis Dreyfus dozens of times to negotiate the deal. As he tried to explain why the negotiations were so drawn out and painful, he reached into his brown leather briefcase and pulled out a dark red Greek passport and a folded, brownish piece of paper. It was his uncle's immigration papers.