Haney's Influence Reaches Far and Wide

Developer Franklin L. Haney has pledged to pay potential cost overruns of up to $200 million for a new baseball stadium project if he is awarded the Nationals.
Developer Franklin L. Haney has pledged to pay potential cost overruns of up to $200 million for a new baseball stadium project if he is awarded the Nationals. (By Jill Karnicki -- The Washington Post)
By Patricia Sullivan and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 5, 2005

Franklin L. Haney Sr., who already owns a small empire of office buildings and hotels in Tennessee and the Southeast, would like to add the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia, a nuclear power plant in Alabama and the Washington Nationals to his sprawling portfolio.

The toll road purchase is possible, the nuclear reactor purchase is unlikely, and sometime in the next two weeks, Haney could learn if he has persuaded Major League Baseball to sell him the Nationals for $450 million.

Haney is not considered one of the three front-runners among the eight groups trying to buy the Nationals. But he has enough money and support in baseball to make him a contender if the top three -- Indianapolis media mogul Jeffrey Smulyan, Washington area developer Theodore N. Lerner and a D.C.-based syndicate headed by Frederic V. Malek and Jeffrey D. Zients -- are passed over, according to league sources.

Part of his support comes from Haney's willingness to cover up to $200 million in cost overruns on a $535 million publicly built ballpark, provided he becomes co-developer of the stadium. Haney also wants to have the chance to purchase property around it.

"My business is finance and development," Haney said in an e-mail this week. "I've worked hard over the years with the District government on some pretty big projects and as owner of the Nationals that experience will help in working with the city on the development of the new ballpark. Our desire to buy the team is also fueled by my belief that the District will benefit enormously from the development of a first class, state-of-the-art ballpark along the Anacostia in Southeast. I know that as owner of the team I can be a positive force in helping to make that happen."

People who know him say the stadium proposal is vintage Haney. "Two things are key to Franklin," said developer Jon Kinsey, a former mayor of Chattanooga who worked for Haney years ago. "He's brilliant. And he's an extremely hard worker and just will not accept failure. He will be counted out by everybody, but he will work on it until he can make it happen."

Haney, who has longtime ties to the Democratic Party, has hosted Inauguration Day parties at his Pennsylvania Avenue condo, flown on Air Force One with President Lyndon B. Johnson and with President Bill Clinton, and became close friends with former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and thousands to Republican candidates in Virginia and Tennessee.

Along the way, Haney lost two elections. He was indicted, and found not guilty, of 42 counts of violations of federal campaign contribution law. He was ordered to pay $12.7 million in damages and $2 million in punitive damages in a bond sale connected to a real estate deal in Colorado. He took over the troubled Portals development in Southwest Washington, home to the Federal Communications Commission, a deal that led to a Justice Department investigation. In the 1980s, his firm defaulted on more than $163 million in bonds and lost or sold hotels in Georgia, Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville.

In each instance, Haney regrouped and today calls himself a billionaire. Haney, 65, and wife Emeline Willingham Haney, who live in three adjacent condos on Pennsylvania Avenue, have five grown children, four of whom work in the family business.

"Our decision to bid on the Nationals was a family decision," Haney said. "Washington has been very good to the Haney family over the years and we see the Nationals as a tremendous vehicle for doing good things in the community and as a way for us to give something back. As baseball fans, we also believe in the tradition of family ownership. It provides stability and accountability and if we are fortunate enough to buy the team, we are in it for the long haul."

Politics, Power and Profit

How the son of a foundry worker in Cleveland, Tenn., came to control $10 billion worth of real estate is a tale of smarts and a willingness to take risks that others failed to see or seize.

Haney worked his way through the University of Tennessee by selling Bibles. He moved to Washington in 1963 to work for Sen. Herbert Walters (D-Tenn.) shortly after his father died in a tractor accident. Walters agreed to hire Haney on the condition that he attend law school, so Haney enrolled at George Washington University. He stayed on to work for Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.) before returning to his home town as a private attorney and staff lawyer for the Tennessee Public Service Commission.

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