Twenty-three-year-old Clifford Flowers wasn't sure what he would do with his degree in electrical engineering after graduating from Howard University in May. But a four-month internship arranged through a new program designed to pull more young black people into commercial real estate won him over.

"I had never done this before, and I got exposed to a lot of elements of the industry," Flowers said of the internship that began in the spring semester.

Flowers was one of six students, all from Howard, who participated in the program, which was sponsored by the African American Real Estate Professionals of Washington.

Even though the District's population is 60 percent black, the real estate business is dominated by white men, developers and real estate brokers say, especially the sometimes clubbish world of commercial property sales.

"This is a very relationship-driven industry, and there have been barriers to entry" for minorities, said James Tolbert, a vice president at Tompkins Builders Inc. involved in the black real estate group and who was one of Flowers's supervisors. "Young African Americans weren't exposed or didn't know what opportunities were available to them in the development area," he said.

Eighteen students applied for the internships. The six selected worked about 20 hours a week and earned a college credit in the process. They were paid $10 to $15 an hour working in various divisions of large, District-based real estate companies, including Tompkins, Akridge, J Street Development Co., Newmark Global Real Estate Advisors and CarrAmerica Realty Corp.

Flowers said he did various jobs at the new Securities and Exchange Commission building on Capitol Hill: making sure equipment was installed correctly, reviewing warranties on air-conditioning systems and elevators, even checking that the wall paint was the right color.

"There needs to be more programs like this," Flowers said. "It's really beneficial because you learn that it's an interesting industry and that there's a lot of opportunity for growth if you're willing to put in the hours." In fact, Flowers was hired by Tompkins early this summer for a full-time job as an electrical engineer.

For Howard student Hafeez Giwa, however, an internship at Akridge left him debating whether to take a job with a real estate company, do finance deals on Wall Street or combine the two. Giwa is a native of Nigeria, where his mother owns a construction company that builds roads and dams and his father is a self-employed civil engineer.

At Akridge, Giwa, 23, a senior majoring in finance, worked in such divisions as leasing, marketing, construction, property management and finance.

"I got to sit in on lease negotiations and see how that goes, and I got to work with building services and understand how everything in it works," he said. "I had no exposure to commercial real estate before this. But I learned how you structure a development deal like Gallery Place and how you bring the debt and equity investors into the mix. And how you forecast the rents you'll need to get.

"The exposure to all the different departments helped me to make a decision of do I want to do this?" Giwa said. But he's still deciding and spending the summer in New York working in a capital markets group for Morgan Stanley.

Land Near Planned Stadium

Akridge, the District-based developer, has under contract a parcel of about nine acres at Buzzard's Point, three blocks from the planned Nationals baseball stadium in Southeast, according to brokers and others close to the deal and who spoke about the private negotiations on condition of anonymity.

The lot is owned by Pepco and used as parking lots, but about 2.7 million square feet of development could fit there. Land around the baseball stadium is selling for $30 to $55 per buildable square foot, according to brokers in the area.

John E. "Chip" Akridge III declined to comment on the deal except to say: "I've got my hands on stuff there. We're pursuing several deals."

Developers are jockeying to buy land around the stadium -- much of it parking lots, repair garages and abandoned buildings -- to develop housing and retail and office space. The stadium is expected to open in 2008.

Convention Center Hotel

The board of the Washington Convention Center Authority is expected to vote this week on the location of a giant hotel to support the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square and how to pay for it. The release of a $500,000 consultants report has been delayed several months as the District and the convention center's board have debated where to put the 1,200-room hotel.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and some of his supporters on the convention center's board have said they want the hotel to be built at Massachusetts Avenue and Ninth Street NW, but D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) and others on the convention center's board want it on the site of the demolished convention center, two blocks away.

The consultants report is expected to put the hotel's cost at about $400 million at either location and say that the hotel would work at either site, according to board members and District officials who have seen the report and who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been released. After the vote, the board will make its recommendation to the mayor.


* Regent Partners, an Atlanta office and hotel developer, plans to build a 315-room hotel topped by about 85,000 square feet of condominium space in Old Town Alexandria. The two-acre vacant site is next to the new 2 million-square-foot headquarters of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a new federal courthouse. Construction is expected to start in the next two months and be completed within two years. The hotel development group of CB Richard Ellis represented Regent Partners in the deal.

* Donohoe Cos. of the District, a commercial real estate firm, is creating a hotel division called Donohoe Hospitality Services. The company will manage eight hotels in the area.

* William B. Jenkins will become a senior vice president in the Washington office of Trammell Crow Co., a Dallas-based real estate service firm. Jenkins, who worked for the General Services Administration as a national director, will help oversee Trammell Crow's deals with the federal government.

Dana Hedgpeth writes about commercial real estate and economic development. She can be reached at

Howard University graduate Clifford Flowers, who was introduced to commercial real estate through an internship program, now works for Tompkins Builders.