Jeffrey N. Cohen, a developer known for his often public, sometimes private relationship with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, says he gets no favors, that he would trade places with anyone, anytime. A good day for a role reversal would have been three Fridays ago, the day Cohen told his 10 employees he wasn't sure he could pay them anymore. The same day, his wife Francine laid off the two half-time employees of the Lincoln Theater, the renovation of which the Cohens are funding. Or he might have picked the days in 1986 and 1987 when the Cohens saddled their Cleveland Park house with $1.2 million in mortgages to keep their business going. Or this winter, when the Cohens put their summer home on Nantucket, Mass., on the market. Despite his reputation as a millionaire developer using his Barry connection to find a pot of gold, Cohen said he has gambled most of his personal wealth on his $200 million Jackson Plaza development in the inner-city Shaw neighborhood and his Gateway development at Georgia and Eastern avenues. He acknowledged that the deals remain dependent on crucial city government decisions. Cohen's two controversial projects were sailing on rough waters when he hit another storm Friday. The Washington Post reported that Barry for five years has had a secret interest in a real estate deal with Cohen on Nantucket. They struck the private deal six months after Barry approved a public deal for the city to buy the Shaw properties that Cohen said he was about to lose through foreclosure. The propriety of Barry's Nantucket investment is being scrutinized by the city's ethics office. Even without the bad publicity, Cohen said he is struggling to meet his weekly expenses while he wades through community opposition and bureaucratic formalities. "Am I at risk? You bet I'm at risk for every nickel I've got or will ever get. I'm at the precipice," he said in a recent interview. "I don't have a bottomless pit of money. Whether it's 60 days or 90 days or 120 days, I'm either going to leap across the precipice or fall into it." If Cohen's future depends on these developments, then Cohen once again is depending on the mayor. Without the help of Barry and other city leaders, Cohen said the Shaw deal would have fallen in years ago. Shaw, to a developer, is a synonym for "riot corridor." Rioters burned and looted the Northwest neighborhood for three days after the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 21 years ago. There has been no clamor among developers to work in Shaw since. Cohen's plan is to turn the sites of the former Children's Hospital, Lincoln Theater, Manhattan Laundry and Thompson's Dairy into a massive housing, shopping and office complex linked to the proposed U Street Metro station on the Green Line. The project area, bounded by 10th and 14th streets between U Street and Florida Avenue NW, would be called the Samuel Jackson Plaza, named for the late Republican federal official and civil rights lawyer. "We propose to tear down the abandoned buildings that are the rat-infested shooting galleries for a major population of drug addicts in this city, that exist next to schools and homes where good citizens are trying to live and raise their families," Francine Cohen has written in fund-raising appeals. By 1984, Jeffrey Cohen, 40, had been buying up Shaw properties for most of a decade. It had become clear that bankers, like developers, weren't much interested in Shaw. "I had been threatened with foreclosure on the Children's Hospital property in 1984," Cohen said. "I said to the city, 'You finance it, city, because I can't find a bank.' " In February 1985, the city agreed. The Barry administration, becoming a partner in a three-way deal with Cohen and a nonprofit community group, gave Cohen $4 million more for the properties than their appraised value. The prospects for the land's value seemed good, in part because Barry had decided to locate the new Reeves Municipal Center nearby. Later, the city extended Cohen's repayment schedule for the $12 million he owed in the deal. Cohen was known at the time to be a close friend of the mayor's. One of the first white businessmen to support Barry's first mayoral campaign in 1978, Cohen became godfather to the mayor's son Christopher, who was born in 1980. But Cohen wasn't known to be Barry's business partner in another deal. In August 1985, Cohen included Barry in 22 Broad Street Associates, which owned a house containing two antique shops and three apartments in the Nantucket historic district. Barry's 10 percent interest was registered in the name of a legal "nominee," Washington obstetrician Israel Kogan. While Barry's investment is $49,000 and his share is one-tenth of the $1 million building, it cannot be assumed he has doubled his money, because the building is heavily mortgaged. So far the partners have not received any income, Cohen said, though they have been able to claim a tax benefit on their investment. Cohen and Barry say they did nothing illegal or improper, and Cohen said he received clearance from two city ethics officials. However, one of the officials has said he didn't remember the conversation and the other said she didn't give specific approval of the deal. The timing of the disclosure could not have been worse, Cohen said, because he has loan applications before local banks and needs city approvals for key elements of the Shaw and Gateway projects. In Shaw, Cohen still needs zoning changes that require city approval. In addition, the Barry administration is processing a $4 million federal loan to be passed on to Cohen, and the D.C. Council will be asked to approve $180 million in bonds to finance the project at 3 percent below market interest rates. The Gateway project still needs an alley closing that requires council approval. So far, all that has been completed in Shaw is the renovation of the old Manhattan Laundry as office space. The Lincoln Theater, where Duke Ellington played and Eleanor Roosevelt attended the annual presidential birthday balls, will be next. Then will come housing for 1,200 families, 95,000 square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail space, according to the plan. In the meantime, Cohen says he has faced an increasing cash flow problem, especially on the Shaw deal, which is years behind schedule. Cohen blames his community partners, the Shaw/Coalition Redevelopment Corp., for part of the delays; the community group blames Cohen, and Cohen has been carrying much of the costs. That dispute appears to be patched up for now. On Feb. 28, SCRC voted to support the zoning changes Cohen is seeking -- a change that could receive city approval as early as April. Cohen's other step forward is a new appraisal showing that his land is increasing in value. The value of the Lincoln Theater property, for example, has risen from $585,000 in 1984 to $1.5 million last week, according to Francine Cohen. Still, Cohen says he is squeezed. Although the $4 million federal loan has been approved -- of which he will get about $600,000 reimbursing him for costs of developing the theater -- paper work will delay the first check until about July 1, city officials expect. On Feb. 24, Cohen spoke to his 10 employees at Festival Development Corp., according to an employee who requested anonymity. Cohen later confirmed the account. "I told them I can't continue to fund the costs of developing this project forever," he said. "I may ask you as a result to defer your salary, maybe for 30 days. This created a sense of urgency. And, if I ran out of money -- which I haven't done and I'm not about to do but I may do in the future -- I wanted to find out how committed people were." Cohen said no one quit, and so far he has found a way to meet his payroll. "It's ironic that all this is happening while the project is finally moving forward," Cohen said. Some developers separate their personal finances entirely from their business deals. Cohen has had to mortgage much of the first to fuel the second. "I have been more committed financially and personally to this project than people will ever realize," he said. "And that has meant a commitment whenever necessary to sell assets, borrow against assets, personal assets, whatever necessary to make this work. Jeff Cohen is either going to make it or not make it depending on the success of Jackson Plaza. A lot of people don't believe this." Cohen has mortgaged his house in Cleveland Park twice and said he would entertain offers to buy it. His summer home on Nantucket is on the market for $1.5 million. Cohen hinted he might welcome an offer to back out, to sell his Shaw interests, but he added, "I didn't get in this to sell it . . . . I want a legacy for my family, and for me that says I did more than come into a neighborhood and make money."Staff writer John Mintz contributed to this report.