The Washington Opera has agreed to sell the old Woodward & Lothrop building downtown to a local developer who says he wants to turn it into "a little bit of everything," including residential and retail space. "We're going to rejuvenate it to its original grandeur for the next generation," said developer Douglas Jemal, a retailer-turned-builder who in the past several years has become one of the most active investors in the area around the MCI Center. "We want to see something happen sooner rather than later, because it's so significant to the revitalization of the whole downtown." Jemal agreed to pay $28.2 million for the 10-story building, which fills most of a block at 11th and F Streets NW. He said he plans to close on the sale in 30 days, and begin work on the vacant building as soon as possible after that. For the opera, it's a profitable end to its involvement with Woodies. Using a contribution from benefactress Betty Casey, the opera bought the building at a bankruptcy auction in 1996 for $18.05 million. The company had grand plans for converting the structure into a new opera house, but backed away last year when estimates for the renovation climbed to $200 million. It has instead signed a new 15-year lease at the Kennedy Center. Because of its size (470,000 square feet) and prominent location, Woodies has been the focus of attention from downtown activists who say that to bring life to the neighborhood the building needs residents and shoppers, not just office workers who leave the city each night. Where once downtown had four department stores, including Woodies, there's now just one, Hecht's. Over the past several years, hundreds of apartment and condominium units have been built in downtown's Pennsylvania Quarter neighborhood, but people who live there are adamant that hundreds more are needed. The money from the sale will go to an endowment that Casey set up. "It's really through her generosity starting on this project back in 1996 that we are in this happy position," said Robert H. Craft Jr., president of the opera's board of trustees. There were 11 final bidders for the building, including the Smithsonian Institution, which wanted to mix offices, stores and performance space. Smithsonian spokesman David Umanski said of the announced sale, "No comment. And you can quote me on that." Craft said his board looked at "a number of factors" in picking Jemal. "It was the highest unconditional bid we received, and it was consistent with the other things we said we were looking at -- namely, the interests of the Washington community." Jemal said he still hasn't worked out final details for what he wants to do with the building, and hopes to work closely with the city and with downtown activists to set his plans. "I'm going to sit down with Mayor Anthony Williams and {activists} Terry Lynch and Charley Docter and see everybody's issues and seek something that works for everybody, because it's a community at the end of the day." Both Docter and Lynch said they were glad to hear Jemal had won the bidding and that he wanted to discuss the building's future. "Amen! Wow!," said Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, when he heard of the sale. "Douglas Jemal knows retail as well as anyone in this town, if not better, and he can make it a real center for generating taxes, job opportunities, quality merchandise and a real activity center, as it should be." "He's ready to do the right thing; we need to sit down and talk about what's the right way to do it," said Docter, head of the coalition Downtown Housing Now. Jemal, an often loud and plain-spoken man who frequently shows up at gatherings of suit-clad developers in his trademark sweat shirt and jeans, started in the retail business in the 1960s running a bargain electronics store where the MCI Center stands now. He's become an active developer in the 1990s, with interests in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property throughout the region. He's also heading an investor group that wants to bring a baseball team to downtown Washington, a project that Mayor Williams recently endorsed. Staff writer John Pancake contributed to this report.