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Family Business Looks to Expand
But others privately express concern that Lerner's group does not have the broad political and business support from the Washington community enjoyed by some other groups. And some in the business community said the Lerners haven't worked hard enough at solidifying local backing.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) said he met with a representative of the Lerners but never with the family members. "Of the groups out there, I have a rapport with the Malek and Smulyan groups, the Haney and Ledecky and Collins groups and can put my hands on them at any time and have an open dialogue," Orange said. "The Lerners? I have never met them."
"They don't think like a corporation. They think like a family," said Abramson, whose family shares a suite at FedEx Field with the Lerners. "The have pride of ownership in terms of the projects. They visit them personally, know the tenants, visit the employees. They would bring a family, hands-on pride to the team."
When Ted Lerner visited Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig in Milwaukee two weeks ago, family members went as well, including his son, Mark, and sons-in-law Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum. While Ted Lerner is the chairman of Lerner Enterprises and the control person heading the baseball bid, Mark runs the Lerner real estate holdings and is a sports enthusiast who would eventually take over the Nationals, according to Michael Shapiro, a family spokesman. Cohen manages the Lerner family money; Tanenbaum handles financing for real estate and the baseball bid.
Mark Lerner is also a partner in Lincoln Holdings, which owns the Washington Capitals, the Washington Mystics and 44 percent of Washington Sports and Entertainment, the holding company for the Washington Wizards and MCI Center. Ted Leonsis is the majority owner of Lincoln Holdings.
Lerner said the family will not micromanage the team. "While our family will be active in assuring the organization's commitment to quality and integrity . . . we are cognizant of the error often made by new owners and will seek to retain the best available professionals to operate the club, from the team president on down," Lerner said.
Marty Irving, chief executive of Irving Interests and a former part owner of the Capitals, described the Lerners as "very generous, very private, model citizens" who build first-rate properties. But Irving questioned whether the Lerners can get along with 29 other baseball owners after having autonomous control over their own business.
"They have the financial wherewithal, no question," Irving said. "The question is are their skills transferable to sports? It's very different when you're in charge of your own project."
Leonsis said the Lerners "would make ideal owners of a professional sports franchise. They are great teammates and partners -- and I have personal experience with Mark as a minority partner. He is very respectful to the game's economics."
Ted Lerner graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1944, where he played on the tennis team and edited the school paper. After a stint in Texas as an Army clerk-typist, he attended law school at George Washington University on the GI Bill. While in school his father died, and Lerner, then 21, started selling houses on weekends to support his mother, sister and brother.
Today, he presides over a real estate empire that includes 20 million square feet of office, retail and commercial property in the Washington region, as well as 7,000 apartment units in Maryland and Virginia. The family developed such prominent sites as Tysons Corner in Virginia, White Flint Mall in Maryland and Washington Square in the District.
"There's no one in town with a tougher reputation to negotiate with than Ted Lerner," said Bill Regardie, former publisher of Regardie's business magazine. "I'm not implying that he was unethical. He was a visionary. But when he drew up a lease to negotiate for space at a shopping center, it was 'my way or the highway.' You got nothing. You got concrete floors and air and you paid his price."
Lerner Enterprises, headquartered off Rockville Pike in Bethesda, has continued to develop major projects around Washington, including Dulles Town Center, a 1.4-million-square-foot, two-level mall in Loudoun County and a corporate park, also in Loudoun, where the Redskins have a practice field.
Lerner has also invested in Texas Pacific Group, an exclusive private equity run by David Bonderman, who partnered with Lerner on the Redskins bid, according to people who know the Lerners. Lerner owns homes in Palm Springs, Calif., and on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He and his wife, Annette, have been married 54 years.
They founded the Annette M. Lerner and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation, which has given millions of dollars a year to charity, according to federal forms required of nonprofit organizations. George Washington University Law School named a building after Ted Lerner in recognition of his philanthropy.
New York developer Tom Bernstein was ridiculed several years ago when he and partner Roland Betts proposed a redevelopment of a barren business district on Manhattan's Lower West Side into a sports and entertainment area with skating rinks, a health club, soccer field, golf driving range, a 40-lane bowling alley and movie studios. But Lerner invested in the project, which is now a thriving enterprise.
"Ted looked around and looked at our plans and instantly got it," Bernstein said. "The conventional wisdom in the real estate community in New York was that it was a fool's errand, and Ted saw it differently."
Staff writers Annys Shin and David Nakamura contributed to this report.