New Carrollton tops Peebles' list of potential local development sites

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, October 11, 2010; 3

After seriously considering a run for mayor of Washington, R. Donahue Peebles has turned fully back to real estate development, raising money for a new equity fund and hunting for local development sites.

At the top of the list? New Carrollton.

Peebles Corp. submitted to Metro a proposal to develop the 39-acre transit hub owned by Metro and Maryland into a complex of offices, housing, retail and possibly specialized medical facilities. Instead of entering into exclusive negotiations, Metro initiated a public solicitation process, seeking proposals for the site, with responses due Nov. 5.

Peebles, who began his career in Washington and has developed high-end hotels and housing in South Florida, said he has been studying New Carrollton for two years and envisions it as a hub of jobs, homes and shopping similar to Pentagon City. "Prince George's County, I believe, is one of the last emerging markets in metropolitan Washington, D.C.," he said. "I have always wondered why some of the local developers continue to overlook that as an opportunity."

He said he was disappointed that Metro opted for an open solicitation rather than just negotiating with him but that "at least in our responding there is going to be some activity on it."

Even if he isn't named the New Carrollton developer, Peebles said he is in the market to stay. Under the banner of Peebles Capital Partners, of New York, he said he is creating an equity fund of $250 million aimed at investments in Washington, New York, Las Vegas, Florida, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"Those are going to be our primary markets," he said.

Like a lot of investors, he is looking for properties that can be had for a bargain. "We will be looking at investments that are in distressed situations, either partially completed projects or projects that are recently completed and having difficulty leasing up or selling," he said.

But Peebles said he is also on the lookout for the sort of transformational, public-private developments that have made him famous and wealthy. He was a bidder for the former Stevens Elementary in Foggy Bottom and a city property at Fifth and I streets NW that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's economic development team put out for bid, ultimately selecting other firms for both. With Fenty having been beaten in the D.C. Democratic primary and neither property yet developed, Peebles said he has not given up on them and that he would still like to build a new hotel in the District.

"We thought Stevens school is a great hotel site, and by the way it's not over," he said.

He said he also wants to be a driver of development in D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, just as he was with his first project, a city office building at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE. "I'm looking to build buildings that are transformational," he said.

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