Oliver T. Carr Jr., the undisputed leader in Washington's booming downtown development market, says that if he wanted to erect 15 blocks of wall-to-wall office buildings along a given street between the White House and the Capitol, there would be little problem.
"The money would be there tomorrow morning," Carr said last week.
To the man who has built, or plans to build, roughly 10 percent of Washington's private office building space, "money has never been a problem." Money men come to him.
"All they look at is your track record. It takes a lot of discipline to turn it [money] down," said Carr, whose buildings, planned or under way, nearly equal the floor area in the Pentagon, which is the largest office building in the world.
Within the District, Carr's developments represent about $500 million in invested capital, he acknowledged earlier this year. But he will not say how much is actually his.
Carr presides over a 40-member staff headquartered on the 10th floor of an office building overlooking the White House. He owns, has developed, leases or manages nearly 30 big buildings stretching from Georgetown, east to Foggy Bottom and the West End, along the boxy canyons of Pennsylvania Avenue, M and K streets NW and across 15th Street into the old downtown to the Garfinckel's block and to the 12th and G streets Metro station.
More than anyone else, Carr is changing the skyline of the nation's capital. But to the throngs of city dwellers and commuters who live in, work in, or scurry through the shadows of his buildings, Carr is largely an unknown.
To thousands, Carr is only a nameplate on an elevator wall, or a billboard rising above the barriers of his excavations.
"The only reason we're on top of the heap is that they [other developers] weren't there," said Carr during one of several interviews over the last two weeks.
He was referring to the period after the 1968 riots when many developers and businesses migrated to Maryland and Northern Virginia.
"Any Arab coming through with his millions could have bought up almost every piece of property" downtown, said Carr, who recalls standing on the 10th-floor terrace of his headquarters and watching the smoke billow up from 14th Street during the riots 11 years ago.
The advice from his friends and associates, said Carr, was "move out... go to the suburbs... the city is dying." But while the exodus passed before him, Carr said, "I sat down and strategized."
After a period of study and travel, Carr spotted the "logical" areas where the city would revive -- the West End, old downtown, various planned Metro stations downtown and in the suburbs -- and began planning a land acquisition campaign that put Oliver T. Carr Co. a full three years ahead of the market.
"The role of the city -- as the confluence of government, finance and communications -- wasn't going to change just because we had a little social unrest," said Carr.
In the Wast End, where he is completing his $25-million Westbridge condominium, office and shopping project, Carr said, "We were so far ahead of everybody that we could have bought every piece of property out there, but we elected not to."
Avoiding the image of the monopolizing, bulldozing developer, is part of Carr's daily routine. But his come-from-nowhere ascent to the top of the Washington development market and his vision of opportunity in the wake of the 1968 riots have made him a folk hero in the city's business establishment.
"We dearly love the man," said Robert E. Pickeral, executive vice president for real estate loans at the Riggs National Bank, where Carr sits on the board of directors and is the recipient of about $12-million annually in construction loans.
But personally, Carr is an enigma. Carr declines to be specific about the total investment in his projects and his investors. He will not disclose the annual income of his company or his own net worth.
"That's the advantage of being a privately held company," Carr said.
Carr describes himself as a "private" man, even though he has stepped forward as this year's president of the Metropolitan Board of Trade, which more than any business association represents the city's commercial establishment.
"There don't seem to be too many people who have known him (Carr) very long," said Robert Linowes, last year's board of trade president.
Added James Banks, executive vice president of the Washington Board of Realtors, "He (Carr) began to be noticed about 10 years ago... I didn't know him and I've been around a long time."
For a man who is wealthy to the point that his tax lawyers tells him that new business ventures could be "self-defeating in a tax sense," Carr lives a relatively modest life in a $158,000 home near American University, less than a mile from his boyhood home.
In business, Carr has the reputation of a persistent negotiator, a master of timing and discipline. "He is a man who has the ability to make a deal," said Norman M. Glasgow, Carr's zoning lawyer and a member of the Wilkes & Artis law firm.
"If it means taking someone in as a limited partner; if it means tailoring a deal from a tax standpoint to meet their requirements; if they need to trade property, he can do that -- he finds out what it takes to make a deal," Glasgow said.
If money is not a problem, what is it that developers do, Carr was asked?
"I don't think people really understand the development business," said Carr. "I think they equate us with used car salesmen... king of Nixonian.
"We sell development services. Our bag is to go into an area and throw a planning net over it" and identify the potential development "opportunities."
"Then we take some of the opportunities in the area... and we leave some, but we don't try to grab up every inch in the whole area," he said.
At tht point when a major development site is spotted, it takes an average of three years so get to the point of "commitment," when ground is broken and financing arranged, said Carr.
Accumulating land, organizing investors to acquire it, determining the market, fitting a building design to the market and getting it built and leased are "the mundane things that... take time," said Carr.
The key to success, said Carr, is the vision to see the opportunity, and the rest is "mechanical."
How Carr handles those "mechanical" details, however, can mean the difference between success and failure. He keeps that part of his business closely guarded. "You don't stumble," he said. "The developer who makes a mistake is not a developer very long."
Carr relies on his zoning lawyers at Wilkes & Artis to keep his projects moving through city review processes and he relies on his general counsel law firm, Stohlman, Beuchert, Egan & Smith to fight the lawsuits that occassionally threaten progress on his projects.
"He is solution oriented," said Glasgow of Wilkes & Artis.
"I don't think Ollie is essentially a person who wants to fight," he added, but the lawyer recalled an example of Carr's willingness to play a developer's brand of hardball "if a person won't accept anything else."
In the early 1960s, Carr's first office building project was threatened by a federal government preservation plan. The building Carr wanted to tear down was included in a preservation zone around the White House and Carr "engaged out firm," said Glasgow, to fight back.
The battle was fought quietly on political terms under the strategy of the late James C. Wilkes, a founding member of the law firm. Glasgow said Wilkes was dispatched to Capitol Hill, where he enlisted the late Rep. James C. Auchincloss (R-N.J.) to oppose a Kennedy administration tax cut proposal until the threat to Carr's building disappeared.
"He got it taken out of the plan," the lawyer said. The 62-year-old building was torn down and in its place stands the Carr company headquarters, just west of the White House.
Carr said he cannot remember the details of the battle, except to say that "we fought it successfully." As for Wilkes approach to the problem, Carr recalled that "We left that to Mr. Wilkes."
Carr's boyhood companion, Robert H. Robey, attributes Carr's dogged persistence to a stern father "who demanded that Ollie go out and make it on his own" and Carr's childhood determination to overcome a handicap from birth: "I was born blind in one eye," said Carr, who has worn a glass eye since his youth.
Carr has more than made it and his reputation puts him in the position of turning down a lot of business. He said he has a file full of investors' names who are willing to put their money into his projects. His boyish development director, Ron Goode, said that the flood of incoming development proposals "has become an administrative problem."
One such proposal was on the agenda last Wednesday when Carr agreed to let a reporter sit in on some of the day's business decisions provided the names of clients would not be identified.
The owners of a 30-acre shopping center in Northern Virgnia wanted Carr to handle the conversion of the aging property to condominiums and new retail shopping space.
Carr's 34-year-old stepbrother and director of operations for the company, Phillip R. Carr, was against it: the surrounding neighborhood was too low income; a local government maintenance yard was too close and the Metro lines were newhere in sight.
"I don't think that's our style," said the younger Carr. "That's one we do when we don't have a lot of jobs."
Carr's development director, Goode, was against an immediate decision. He liked the location because of the nearby freeway and the neighborhoods across the freeway were promising.
Oliver Carr leaned back in his conference room chair overlooking the Executive Office Building and wondered aloud whether the freeway might someday become a public transportation corridor and therefore enhance the location. "It's there. They have to use it for something."
But his facial expression snapped back to business when he leaned forward and said, "I think I'm inclined to turn it down myself." He said later that in the scheme of "doing those things that make sense at the right time," the shopping center didn't make it.
Along with his stepbrother and Goode, Oliver Carr's two sons, Richard and Robert, form the nucleus of his management staff. Carr said he is concerned that there are no blacks on his 40-member headquarters staff.
"Basically, out people are engineers or have urban planning backgrounds," said Carr. He added, "In all our years of interviewing and searching and talking, we haven't been able to find that kind of person" in the black community.
Carr said that he has recently expanded his contacts among black financial and educational institutions in hopes of attracting minority candidates.
With Washington's demand for office space growing at more than 2 million square feet per year -- enough growth to fill New York's World Trade Center in five years -- Carr said he can be selective about who invests in his projects.
Pension fund investors from government, industry and labor, foreign investors, insurance companies and individual investors "have a heck of a time investing all of the money that is coming into them... so you don't take it unless you're sure it will work," said Carr.
"They're lending all that money on faith," he added.
The two dominant financial institutions in Carr's career have been the Riggs National Bank, where he is a director, and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, the third largest insurance fund in the country with $27 billion in assets.
"At any given time over the last ten years... we've had $10 million to $12 million in loans to him (Carr) for construction on big projects," said Pickeral, Riggs' real estate vice president.
Such "insider" loans to bank directors are permissible and the Riggs board chairman, Vincent C. Burke Jr., defended them last week by saying, "Our directors are a great source of business for this bank."
Carr also sees no conflict of interest in his position as a major borrower and a membe of the board. "Lay people have to rely on professionals" from the business community to over-see the bank's operations, he said. "So it would be a little odd" and a "great contradiction" for "a person like myself to borrow from another institution," Carr said.
To understand Carr's relationship with Equitable is to understand one of the fundamentals of the development business.
In describing his company's role, Robert Blakeman, Equitable's Washington area division manager, creates the image of a giant maney dynamo -- fed by years and years of invested premiums -- and continually "rolling over" into new investments.
Of Equitable's $570 million loan protfolio in the Washington area, Blakeman said that Carr's projects are currently absorbing "in excess of $100 million."
Though Carr has relied extensively on Equitable financing, he said he does not believe in using a single source of capital for all of his projects because that would pose a monopolizing "threat to the industry."
For instance at International Square, the first phase of which has been completed at 1850 K Street NW, Carr is in partnership with Equitable. But in the construction of the Thurmond Arnold building, which will house the Arnold & Porter law firm, Carr's partner is restaurant owner Ulysses G. "Blackie" Auger.
"We decided to stop trying to outbid each other," said Auger of the partnership that sprang from the acquisition of the Goodwill Industries property at 1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
For the future, Carr hopes his company will achieve "consistent" growth, with developments in the inner city, along Metro corridors and in organized communities "that make sense" like Reston, he said.
Washington's business and financial community appears delighted to have him out front, although to many of them, Carr is still a mystery. Carr's Major Projects In The District Listed
The following is a listing of Washington developer Oliver T. Carr Jr.'s major projects in the District. It does not include his extensive land holdings, which he declined to disclose, saying it "would not be fair to the company." PROJECTS BUILT
1) The Jeffrson House, 922 24th St. NW, 1962.
2) The Letterman House, 2030 F St. NW, 1964.
3) The Mornroe House, 522 21st St. NW, 1964
4) The Hamilton House, 1255 New Hampshire Ave. NW, 1965.
5) The Mills Building, 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 1967.
6) Office building, 1730 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 1970.
7) Office building, 1730 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 1972.
8) Office building, 2025 M St. NW, 1971.
9) Office building, 1800 M St. NW, 1975.
10) International Square, Phase I, 1850 K St. NW, 1977.
11) Westbridge Office building, 2550 M St. NW, 1978.
12) Westbridge condominiums, 2555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 1979. PROJECTS UNDER CONSTRUCTION
13) International Square, Phase II, 1875 I St. NW.
14) American Society of Association Executives headquarters, 1575 I St. NW.
15) Thurmond Arnold Building, 1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW. PROJECTS BEING PLANNED
16) U.S. News & World Report head-quarters, 24th and N streets NW.
17) Garfinckel's block, 15th and G streets NW, 650,000 square feet of office space.
18) Office building, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
19) International Square, Phase III, 1850 K St. NW.
20) Office building, 24th and M streets NW.
21) Office building, Canal and Ivy streets NW.
22) Concominium building, 24th and M streets NW.
23) Office, retail and hotel buildings, 12th and G streets NW at Metro stop. LEASING AND MANAGEMENT
24) Office building, 1133 15th St. NW, since 1971.
25) The Brookings Institution, 1755 Massachusetts Ave. NW, since 1976.
26) The Marquette Apartments, 2155 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
27) The Brookings Institution Annex, 1755 Massachusetts Ave. NW, since 1976. CAPTION: Picture 1, Oliver T. Carr Jr. is changing District's skyline. By Linda Wheeler -- The Washington Post; Picture 2 and 3, Above, Oliver T. Carr Jr., in center, enjoys a light moment at board meeting of Riggs National Bank. In his office near the White House, right, Carr surrounds himself with pictures that have a sailing motif.; Pictures 4 and 5, Above, the entrance to the International Square building, at 19th and K NW. At right, Carr's $25 million Westbridge condominium, office and shopping complex in city's West End.