Shiv Newaldass has never brokered a multimillion-dollar real estate deal -- until now.
The 24-year-old Georgetown University graduate has become a key player in a competitive bidding process between two major teams of developers that want to buy the low-income housing project where he lives, just north of Union Station in an area that is rapidly gentrifying.
By a deadline of this Sunday the resident-owners of the federally subsidized Sursum Corda project, who live in the 199 units on nearly six acres near New York Avenue and North Capitol Street NW, will choose between two offers -- an initial offer from KSI Services Inc. of Vienna or a counter-bid from the nonprofit developer Manna Inc. and a group of individual developers led by Robert A. Stewart, a partner at JBG Cos. of Chevy Chase.
Newaldass grew up at Sursum Corda with his parents and five siblings and now lives there with his girlfriend in a market-rate apartment that he says costs $900 a month. He said he got involved in trying to find a developer to bail out the financially troubled and rundown housing complex earlier this year partly because he had some experience in the real estate business.
He said tutors at an educational program at Sursum Corda introduced him to a group of former Redskins who were active in real estate deals. Newaldass said he and members of the Sursum Corda board struck a deal with the Redskins group and its partner, KSI Services, in which the developers agreed to pay off Sursum Corda's debts and fix up the place.
The developers also agreed to a plan to tear down the property and build new units.
But Newaldass said that once he got into the fine print of the KSI deal, he didn't think he and his fellow residents were getting a fair deal.
"I believe this land is worth $50 million because of where it is sitting and the value of developing it," Newaldass said. That is double the estimated value of the package KSI has offered.
One of the provisions of the KSI deal was that the residents could find another offer by Oct. 30, according to Richard I. Knapp, a senior vice president at KSI. "They wanted to make sure they were getting the best possible deal from KSI," Knapp said. "We allowed them to shop the deal."
Newaldass said he contacted a friend from his days at Georgetown who works at JBG Cos., one of the largest developers in the city, and asked for help. Newaldass said his friend eventually was directed to Stewart, who is known for his philanthropic interests.
In July, Newaldass and two tutors from Sursum Corda made their pitch to Stewart. In early October, Stewart, the other private investors and Manna put their offer on the table.
Now, Newaldass is campaigning for the second deal that he brokered, saying it is better for the residents. "They're a nonprofit group willing to go the extra mile," he said of Manna.
But David Chestnut, the executive director of Sursum Corda, said the Manna deal is "a bit sketchy. There's still a lot of things that need to be flushed out." The KSI deal "stands very strong because of what KSI has done to date," he said. "KSI has delivered on everything they said they were going to deliver on." Chestnut described Newaldass's approach as "a little unorthodox" because he failed to bring the second offer to the Sursum Corda board before word of it got around.
City Administrator Robert C. Bobb has said KSI's offer comes closer to meeting the goals of the District's New Communities Initiative, which is aimed at preserving low-income housing as neighborhoods gentrify.
In the District's commercial real estate community, details of the debate at Sursum Corda have attracted less interest than another question: Why did Stewart, the high-powered executive at JBG, get involved? Stewart said in voice mail messages that he did not want to comment for this article, but the Rev. Jim Dickerson, the founder of Manna, said: "What's in this for Rob? He's made a lot of money, and this has to do with a desire for him to do good and give back to others who haven't had the opportunities he's had."
The winning development team is likely to make a profit replacing the complex with mostly market-rate units, other developers say. Stewart has said his investment is being made through a nonprofit group that would reap any gains.
For Newaldass, the Sursum Corda redevelopment effort has become full-time work -- and it's unpaid. He said he is not getting money from any of the developers.
After graduating in 2003 from Georgetown, where he studied English and history, Newaldass said, he worked briefly writing grant proposals for a campus department and as a temp in a law firm. He worked a few months in Miami as a bartender before coming back to the District in early 2004.
More recently, he said, he had been learning the real estate business working for a real estate investment adviser. In January, he was elected to the Sursum Corda board. In March, he quit his $35,000-a-year-job in real estate. He said his family and his girlfriend, who works in customer service for Chevy Chase Bank, are helping him financially. His mother runs a Caribbean restaurant in Manassas with his sister. His father had worked as a maintenance man at Sursum Corda for several years before getting a job a few years ago driving buses between the District and New York.
"My credit is shot to hell," Newaldass said. "I don't have any income. When we go out with friends they pay for me."
Why invest so much effort in Sursum Corda and its real estate deals? Newaldass, who benefited from the tutoring programs at the complex and won scholarships to Gonzaga College High School and Georgetown, said it's about giving back.
"I'm capable of doing it right now," Newaldass said. "I'm at a crossroads in my life right now. It's going to be on my conscience. We had an opportunity to do something good for so many people.
"There are people who are intelligent and outspoken in the community, but they don't have the time," he said. "They have so many obligations in their life. There's no reason for us not to get a good deal."
Dana Hedgpeth writes about commercial real estate and economic development. She can be reached at email@example.com.