Washington is Nich Antonelli's Monopoly board. he has bought and sold hundreds of properties throughout the city, assembled large packages of land, torn down scores of old buildings and put up many new ones - increasing the value of his holdings wherever he can.
But because his Monopoly board is a real city, his moves have helped to change the shape of that city and the quality of its residents' lives.
By controlling more than a third of the commercial parking spaces in Washington and successfully lobbying to block public parking lots here, he has helped determine the city's commuting patterns.
By tearing down row houses and other low-density buildings and replacing them with huge glass-and-concrete office and apartment complexes, he has helped change the profile of the city and the character of many of its neighborhoods.
Southwest's shantytown slums became high-rise apartments and offices. Rundown row houses in Foggy Bottom became the futuristic Columbia Plaza apartments near the Watergate. A crossroads of small shops and warehouses became looming office towers and hotels in Rosslyn. Turn-of-the-century town houses and older commericla buildings became masses of huge office blocks in the new downtown along K Street west of 16th Street NW. Many developers had a hand in these transformations, but Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. was among the most active and influential.
He also has amassed the largest property holdings of any private investor in Washington's old downtown, where the Metro subway's main Metro Center station is now located and where proposals for redevelopment include everything from a new convention center to a facelifting for Pennsylvania Avenue and its environs.
"It's just like a guy playing checkers - the guy who can see three or four moves ahead, that's him," one old friend said of Antonelli.
His associates and admirers believe his impact on the city has been positive, modernizing it and fueling its economy. "A lot of people have benefited from his work," said Robert Sokolsky, who is involved in shopping center development with Antonelli. "He's created a lot of jobs."
But others, like Leila Smith of the Don't Tear It Down preservationist group, believe Antonelli also has destroyed some of what should have been saved in the city.
"I think he's sort of the classic example of the almighty buck," Smith said. When she met with Antonelli once to protest his plans to tear down a building he had bought, she said he seemed "cold-shouldered and rude . . . then waxed poetic about his grandfather (a stonecutter) and all the hardships of the developer . . . He has no particular pride in what he's doing and no particular interest in the city." Merging of Interests
An old Antonelli friend told a story that suggests that Antonelli's interest in the city is very hard to separate from his interest in business. When Lady Bird Johnson "was on this beautification kick," the friend recalled, "all of a sudden he (Antonelli) put shrubbery around his parking lot."
Though the gesture got Antonelli an invitation to the White House and a special plaque from Mrs. Johnson, the friend said "I don't think he cared too much about beautification. He's just a shrewd businessman."
Another old friend made a similar point, talking about how Antonelli and his wife spend their leisure. "They feel that because they earn money in Washington, they should spend in Washington, so they go to restaurants in the District when they eat out. Of course, maybe he owns them, who knows?" Ready for Commuters
As a shrewd businessman, Antonelli first capitalized on the fact that many people moved to the suburbs after World War II and had to commute by car to downtown Washington. He bought lots and built garages for PMI in almost every part of the city where government offices are concentrated.
He has benefited from Congress' refusal to allow the District government to operate large public parking facilities and by both local and federal government subsidies of their employes' parking. The city government ended its subsidies in 1974, in part to encourage use of public transportation and to fight air pollution. But the federal government continues to pay for some parking for some of its workers.
In Southwest Washington, for example, in the Nassif Building, which has its own entrance to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro subway station, there are still 1,500 taxpayer-subsidized parking spaces for the employes of the U.S. Department of Transporation who work in offices there. The government operates the garage under a sublease from PMI. Parking Lot System
Antonelli has also used parking lots for redevelopment technique that can be described as blockbusting by parking lot.
During the past three decades, he would move into a neighborhood that appeared ripe for economic change, buy a few small buildings (quite often Victorian townhouses), tear them down and put in parking lots. The noise, pollution and higher tax assessments produced by the lot eventually would help persuade people nearby to sell their homes, unitl lot by lot, houses would be purchased and razed and the land blacktopped, in a chain reaction. Then the zoning would be changed to reflect the new commercial nature of the neighborbood, the lots consolidated and a massive new building constructed on the site.
Antonelli "would buy up a block of houses and, while waiting for permits to build an office building, he'd blacktop it over and open a parking lot," expalined Bedford Brown, an old Antonelli friend.
Antonelli "went around Washington in the 1940s buying places," according to Belford Brown's brother, Jim, another old friend who is now employed by Antonelli "Everybody said he was crazy, buying alleys and things like that. He bought all over Southwest when it was sort of the skid row of Washington. Then urban renewal came in."
After Antonelli and partner Kingdon Gould Jr. bought property in somewhat rundown Foggy Bottom in the 1950s, an urban renewal plan for that area also was conceived.Antonelli and Gould owned about half the land in the project area when urban renewal was first proposed. By the time it was officially created, they owned 90 percent of the privately held land. Urban Renewal Fight
At first Antonelli and Gould were receptive to the urban renewal plan for their property, which they had by then cleared of buildings and blacktopped over the parking. Later, however, both men decided they wanted a larger share in the special corporation formed to develop Columbia Plaza.
The Redevelopment Land Agency balked at giving them this larger share, so Antonelli and Gould appealed to the courts and influential friends in Cngress to regain control of the land. After a protracted debate RLA agreed in late 1965 to sell the project entirely to private developers, including Antonelli and Gould.
The resulting Columbia Plaza complex overlooking the Kennedy Center is just one of the many Major buildings Antonelli has helped develop here. In one recent year, Antonelli had principal or partial interests in office buildings grossing more than $4 million in annual rental income from the federal government and nearly $1.5 million from the District government.
Among his projects in the new downtown area are Antonelli's nine-story corporate headquarters at 1725 DeSales Street NW, the Madison National Bank's headquarters at Connecticut Avenue and M Street NW, a building at 200 L St. NW that houses the Touchdown Club and the Abbey Road nightclub and disco, and a building at 21s and M streets NW that holds the Bojangles bar and restaurant, the Urban Institute and offices of the Social Security AdministratioN. Development Areas
Not far away, with other investors he has bought up the row houses and other buildings that made up much of the Hartnett Hall low-cost boarding house complex of town houses and small apartment buildings just west of Dupont Circle. Those porperties are on the edge of West End between two neighborhoods now undergoing residential restoration and commercial development.
On the other side of downtown, Antonelli and other investors also developed in the mid-1960s a building at 500 First St. NW for the city's old welfare department. The D.C. Department of Human Resources still uses the building as its public assistance headquarters, but the neighborhood, where Antonelli owns other property, is now changing rapidly. They Hyatt-Regency Hotel recently opened nearby and other new development appears to be moving there from the Capitol Hill area.
Until the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation bought them this February for nearly twice their assessed value to save their historic facades, Antonelli and other investors owned a row of boarded-up stores in a row of old buildings at Seventh and D streets NW. Antonelli had wanted to tear them down for a parking lot.
Antonelli also is a major owner of a concrete parking lot across from the Martin Luther King Jr. Library and the National Portrait Gallery on G Street NW. The lot was opened after Antonelli bought and tore down the historic McGill Building there over the protests of preservationists. Diverse Holdings
His other holdings in the city are equally diverse. They range from rubble-strewn vacant lots in near Northeast Washington just north of New York Avenue to the Gramercy Inn off Scott Circle downtown, from multi-story parking garages downtown to a building on Ninth Street NW rented to the operators of a gay bar.
Antonelli also has extensive investments in Maryland and Virginia. He is an officer and director of the Murray Corp., a firm based in Portland, Maine, that manufactures auto parts at a plant in Baltimore County, and is president and director of the Ijay Corp., a real estate rental firm in Towson, Md. Industrial Park
Along with real estate holdings in Towson and parking lots in downtown Baltimore, Antonelli owns part of a 35-acre industrial park on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Farther east, one of his ventures owns 335 acres, including a marina at Franklin Point, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay. Antonelli is also involved in two properties in Ocean City, Md.
In Virginia, he helped develop Orleans Village, a 440-unit garden apartment group in Alexandria, and Rosslyn Plaza, a complex of two high-rise apartment buildings and three office buildings in Arlington's Rosslyn.
With other associates, Antonelli has an interest in shopping centers, either completed or proposed, in Olney and Salisbury, Md., and in Richmond and Charlottesville. He has an interest in at least seven apartment complexes under development in and around Chicago. He also has land in Michigan City, Ind., and an interest in brownsville Steel and Salvage Inc. in Port of Brownsville, Tex., a firm that breaks up old ships and sells the metals.
He is partial owner of the 159-room Dayton Airport Inn in Dayton, Ohio, and has or had a piece of a gas and coal company in eastern Kentucky and a tomato and cucumber farming operation in the Bahamas. Until the government of Panama seized it, Antonelli, Gould and other investors also owned a huge plantation in Panama. Land Partnerships
Antonelli's real estate holdings are recorded in more than 60 land partnerships. Although his investments have sometimes taken him far away from Washington, his major impact has been here.
The next part of the city where Antonelli's presence as a developer may soon be seen in Washington's old downtwon, where he already has ownership interests in more property than any other private individual.
His holdings include 1325 G St. NW, a 10-sktory building that houses the city's urban renewal agency and the National Capital Planning Commission, the Pennsylvania Building at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, which contains the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation, and an office building at 12th and E streets where the Internal Revenue Services has offices.
Many of these properties have belonged to Antonelli for years. He held them while land values in the old downtown have been fairly stagnant. But he is not unmindful of pending developments that could turn his investments into gold.
As early as 1972, for instance, a former business partner recalled taking a leisurely ride through the old downtown while Antonelli pointed out his holdings. Antonelli particularly singled out property he owned near Mount Vernon Square, saying, "That's where the convention center will be."
Revitalizing the old downtown has been a priority of federal and city planning agencies. Proposals for rejuvenating the area include construction of a convention center, renovation of Pennsylvania Avenue and changing restricted building height limitations, all of which could bring big financial gains for Antonelli and other landholders there.
District and federal government proponents of these projects argue that they will be good for the city and its economy. If so, what is good for Washington would also good for Antonelli.