Foreign investors are going to play an increasingly important role in the development of the metropolitan area because of the region's financial stability and accompanying worries about economic prospects abroad, area real estate officials predict.
One recent survey by a major national developer indicated that there are at least 32 foreign-owned properties in the downtown area alone, a figure that is expected to increase dramatically in the early 1980s.
In fact, just one nationwide real estate development firm, Romanek-Golub and Co., which is based in Chicago, says it brought more than $50 million in foreign money into Washington area projects in 1979 alone.
"A lot of international investors like investing here," said Julian Josephs, international investment coordinator for Romanek-Golub. "International investors relate to Washington since it is a lot like London Brussels and Paris."
Last summer, Josephs' company announced $28 million in joint ventures involving the Tysons Office Center in Tysons Corner and the Bethesda Office Center near downtown Bethesda. Those two projects involved investment money from a Dutch fund that is a Romanek-Golub client.
Two months later, the company purchased, on its own, a 460,000-square-foot office complex at 20 Massachusetts Ave. NW, a building under lease to the federal government. That purchase was part of a $46.5 million transaction involving the District site and several Illinois properties sold by First Mortgage Investors Real Estate Investment Trust.
And within several weeks, the Chicago firm is expected to announce another major investment of foreign dollars here when its plans for another Northern Virginia site are revealed.
All this points up the increasing role of foreign investment across the country and, in particular, in the Washington area. During the last several years, Romanek-Golub has been involved in investing about $300 million in foreign money in the United States.
"It is extremely difficult to place the large amount of capital available to us exclusively in existing projects," said E. Barry Mansur, Romanek-Golub's vice-president for investment. "Therefore we are now moving forward with well-conceived development projects on behalf of our offshore clients."
Although the Massachusetts Ave. building is the company's first purchase here on its own, it hopes to pump even more foreign money into Washington in the coming years. "We're looking all over this area," Josephs said. "There's a real possibility we'll be acquiring more properties."
And Josephs, a British citizen, thinks the basic American wariness about foreign investment is unfounded. "With so much American property in the rest of the world, it's difficult for that issue to be brought up," he said.
Josephs' clients, most of whom are Europeans, are interested in long-term investments rather than tax shelters with a short-term gain. "We're looking for long-term growth that will add affluence to the community," he said. "The foreign investor is willing to take a low yield in order to spread his risk.
"They view the United States as the last bastion of capitalism, and there are very few cities they would be interested in."
Citing the lack of public transportation in the nation's newer cities such as Houston, Josephs said Washington's appeal to foreign investors lies in its expanding rapid-rail system, the city's building-height limitations, which make office building purchases reasonably low-cost, the stability of the city government's economic base, and the rapid redevelopment of the downtown.
"I'm sure Europeans will play a big part in the revitalization of Washington," he said. "The Arabs may come here to speculate, but the Europeans are here to add stability." CAPTION: Picture 1, Drawing shows planned Tysons Office Center in Tysons Corner. It's cost is estimated at more than $12 million. Romanek-Golub and Co.; Picture 2, JULIAN JOSEPHS . . . calls wariness unfounded; Picture 3, Artist's conception of 316,000-square-foot Bethesda Office Center, eight-story office building and garage.