The last time Washington's urban renewal agency chose a development team for one of its coveted downtown properties, Gallery Place at 7th and G streets NW., real estate owner Flaxie Pinkett and developer Melvin Lenkin were rivals.
Today, Pinkett and Lenkin are partners competing against four other groups for another potentially lucrative city-owned tract, the Portal site at the foot of the 14th Street bridge in Southwest Washington.
Among their competitors are lawyer Samuel C. Jackson, C&P Telephone Co. executive Delano E. Lewis and architect Charles Bryant -- all of whom were with Lenkin in the earlier venture.
Temporary alliances are indigenous to development deals, but they usually remain outside of public view. That has not been the case in Washington over the past three years.
After Mayor Marion Barry took office in 1979, the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency, noting that the population of the District is 70 percent black and that there were virtually no black-owned developments downtown, began requiring that blacks or other racial minorities hold equity interest in all proposals presented for RLA-owned sites, usually 25 percent or more.
In the years since, a small and select group of black lawyers, businessmen, architects and city officials has emerged as a regular supporting cast to the new stars of Washington's development game, who themselves have appeared and reappeared whenever RLA lets bids for city-owned sites.
This small collective has become a focus of attention again with the expected announcement early next year of developers for the $300 million Portal project, the last and largest city-owned site in or near downtown.
Although the rivalry for this city-owned site is unprecedented in its intensity, the contestants are familiar players.
Sixteen of the 42 principals now vying for the Portal site have tried successfully and unsuccessfully in an array of pairings to win other government-owned property during the last three years.
This time, they are divided among five teams competing for the right to build a $300 million complex of offices, stores and a hotel on the 10-acre site.
"There is always a reconstitution depending on what people you think will win," said consultant Roy Littlejohn, a recurring partner. "There are no permanent alliances."
"The real decision is around two points -- what configuration will win and what are the ingredients that will make it succeed if you do win," said Littlejohn, who has tried three times with two different teams to win a downtown site and lost each attempt.
C&P executive Lewis said, "a lot of it is happenstance." Lewis, who was chairman of the mayor's tranisition team three years ago, said the same names often reappeared because "only a few of the people who can afford it are interested."
Minority businesses would own 20 to 42 percent of the Portal projects.
"It's fairly clear that if RLA the Redevelopment Land Agency, the urban renewal agency had not pushed for this, these developers would not seek out minorities," said one black partner who echoed the opinion of several others. "Because of the pressure induced by RLA these folks went scrambling for blacks."
Western Development Co., for instance, cosponsors of one of the proposals for the Portal site, also built Georgetown Park, a large shopping mall on M street NW topped with condominiums, but there are no black partners in that project.
Shopping mall magnate Theodore Lerner, who is bidding on the Portal project, is developing Washington Square, a 12-story, $100 million office and shopping complex on the Southwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW. There are no minority owners of that project, either.
Blacks also are absent from the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Avenue because "a criteria for winning does not seem to include minority participation," said a black partner.
The federally funded Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp., which oversees redevelopment of America's main street between the White House and the Capitol, has a "suggested minumum" requiring that blacks own 10 percent of developments. Gerri Porter, the affirmative action officer for PADC, said, however, that "there are no minority equity partners" involved in any of the projects.
Here are some examples of the game of musical chairs involved in bidding for city-owned development tracts:
* Pinkett, who runs John R. Pinkett Realty, the oldest and largest black real estate company in the District, is trying for the third time to win a part of the downtown action. She is a close friend of former mayor Walter E. Washington and one of the most respected members of the established black upper middle class.
Two years ago, she joined New York real estate magnate William Zeckendorf and others in a bid to develop Gallery Place at 7th and G streets.
This summer, she allied with Washington developer Conrad Cafritz and others for the development rights around the century-old Sumner School at 16th and M streets. Pinkett and her partners lost both times.
* Cafritz has a new set of partners on Portal. They include Roger Blount, owner of the Tyroc Construction Co., civil engineers Delon Hampton and Associates, Urban Service Systems, a trash hauling firm, the janitorial firm of Unified Services Inc., and the Cultural Alliance, a metropolitan area coalition of arts groups.
Cafritz's wife, Peggy Cooper, is not part of the project. But she has been a longtime suppoter of Barry, and was appointed by the mayor as chairman of the D.C. Commission of the Arts and Humanities, which gives grants to arts groups.
Cafritz said he has different partners in the Portal project because "we wanted to vary the participation," because some former partners had earlier commitments with other groups and because "we wanted to maximize business involvement at Portal" since it is a large site.
* Littlejohn was with Pinkett and Cafritz on the Summer bid, but in the Portal competition, he has joined with parking lot owner and developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. and the Winn Development Co. of Boston.
That Portal team also includes lawyer Jackson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, fellow lawyer Dorsey Evans and Clinton Chapman and Chapman's wife Charlotte, who was a strong supporter of former mayor Washington but is now in the Barry camp. The other partners are businesswoman Carmen Quander, architect Charles Bryant and a Southwest community organization, the Southwest/Southeast Economic Development Corp. (SEDCO). Bryant was with Lenkin on Gallery Place, and with the Donohoe Construction Co. on Sumner School.
* Lenkin also has tried for three downtown sites and has won twice. He and a group of officers and directors of the city's then four black-owned financial institutions were awarded the Gallery Place site on Nov. 20, 1979. Among those in the partnership were Orlando Darden of Community Federal Savings and Loan, William B. Fitzgerald of Independence Federal Savings and Loan (whose board of directors includes the mayor's wife), B. Doyle Mitchell of the Industrial Bank of Washington, Lewis and Jackson. Community and Independence have since merged.
The Metro board granted building rights over the McPherson Square subway station at 14th and I Streets NW to Lenkin and a group that included architect Arthur Cotton Moore, Southwest restauranteur Manuel Fernandez and lawyer R. Robert Linowes. (Fernandez, owner of the Channel Inn, a popular stop for many city politicians, also was part of a team that unsuccessfully bid on Metro Center.)
Joining Lenkin on the Portal team are Pinkett, Fernandez, James and Cilla Adkins, developers of the O Street Market, Walker and Dunlop, a mortgage banking firm headed by Mallory Walker, a Barry friend, lawyers William Harris and S. Lee Narrow, architects Louis Fry Jr. and Vlastimil Koubek, and Lerner, who built Tysons Corner, Wheaton Plaza, Landover and White Flint shopping malls. Lerner and Lenkin are long-time acquaintances and Lenkin's daughter is married to Lerner's son.
Lerner has said in each of the deals, he was an invitee and not an iniatator. On Portal, he said, Fernandez and Adkins started putting together a team and asked him to join. "Somebody came to us," Lenkin said.
* The Western Development Co. is also on its third try with its third set of partners. The company, headed by Herbert Miller, bid for the Metro Center site in September, 1978. Developer Oliver T. Carr won.
Western joined with several well-connected city officials to bid on Gallery Place. The partners included lawyers Ruby B. McZier, a member of the D.C. Zoning Commission, Leonard McCants, chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment and Larry C. Williams, who was appointed to the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board while the Gallery decision was pending. Williams was also an early Barry supporter and fund raiser.
On Portal, Western has joined with the Eastcoast Development Corp., composed of community development corporations in Southeast Washington, Harlem and East Los Angeles. Also a part of the venture are lawyer David Wilmot, who is counsel to the city's convention center board, consultants John Clyburn and Marie Barksdale, realtor Carlton Jones, Lewis from C&P and Carolyn Jordan, counsel to the Senate Banking Committee and a Barry supporter.
"We have always advocated broad-based minority participation," Miller said. None of the former team members was invited back because "we wanted partners not involved in any government arrangements."
* Attorneys James L. Hudson, Willie L. Leftwich and Chester C. Davenport, who have joined with the Rockefeller family to bid on Portal, have been perhaps the most successful blacks in Washington when it comes to being on winning development teams. They are the only black partners who have been on two winning teams.
After obtaining Gallery Place, a city-owned parcel on the Southwest corner of 12th and G streets NW., Sept. 26, l978 with developer Nathan Landow, the law partners also won the Sumner School site with Boston-based developer Mortimer B. Zuckerman and the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church.
Earlier Zuckerman, Hudson, Leftwich and Davenport also were chosen as the developers of Capital Gallery, a city-owned parcel at 6th Street and Maryland Avenue S.W. The city housing department refused to release the names of other competitors.
Hudson supported the former mayor and was appointed as the city's bond counsel. Since Washington left office, he has built ties to Barry. Davenport served as an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Carter administration and Leftwich is a former RLA board member.