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A Towering Disappointment

By Paul Schwartzman and Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Once a week, Richard Hudspeth liked to walk by his dream home, watching as workers lay the brick sidewalks, planted grass and installed balconies, some with sweeping views from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument.

The Dumont was a downtown high-rise to die for, with its promise of granite countertops, a rooftop pool and "a whole new level of living."

A year ago, without having set foot in the building at Fourth Street and Massachusetts Ave. NW, Hudspeth said, he put $15,000 down on a studio apartment priced at nearly $300,000, confident that he'd be moving within months. But he and dozens of other buyers, including some who put down deposits more than two years ago, are still waiting for their deeds. Several months ago, the developer stopped returning calls and e-mails, he said.

"I feel like we have been held hostage," said Hudspeth, 52, a paralegal, who gave up a rental, expecting to move to the Dumont, and now commutes to his District office from a friend's place outside Baltimore. "I've had enough."

The 550-unit Dumont was launched during a housing boom that saturated the region with condominiums. Now the ferocious economic crisis, already paralyzing new construction, is wreaking havoc on projects that are nearly finished or even newly completed.

Ensnared in the mess are unwitting buyers, who have given up other homes and had deposits frozen while they await the outcome. One buyer said he had put down $65,000 on a $1.2 million, two-bedroom penthouse.

David Weldler, a principal at Broadway Management, the New York-based development company that is building the Dumont, said the project stalled because Broadway Management sold too few units to satisfy the lenders. The building's future, he said, "is in the hands of the banks," which could decide to keep it as a condominium or convert it to rental apartments and return buyers' deposits. "We hope this should come to a resolution in a relatively short amount of time," he said.

Construction of the Dumont began in 2006, and the developer provided regular updates on the building's progress through May. Over the summer, Broadway's sales team informed buyers by mail that they would begin settlements in early to mid-August, which came and went with little explanation.

Since then, the buyers have consulted lawyers and created an Internet site on which they share news and frustrations.

"Will the Dumont ever end this craziness and give us our money back?" one anonymous author wrote under the headline, "The 'Doom'ont."

A number of buyers who put down deposits in 2006 have sought refunds, under a contract provision that allows them to withdraw if their units are not ready within two years. Broadway's attorneys, in a letter in May, blamed the delays on weather, the developer's inability to quickly obtain construction permits from the District, and problems with Pepco and a window supplier.

"As you might expect, the Seller does not have in its files any statement from Pepco, the D.C. government or the window supplier acknowledging and taking responsibility for the delays," the lawyers wrote. "Each of them would not wish to provide a paper trail leading to monetary claims which might be made against them."

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