Franklin L. Haney Sr., who already owns a small empire of office buildings and hotels in Tennessee and the Southeast, would like to add the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia, a nuclear power plant in Alabama and the Washington Nationals to his sprawling portfolio.
The toll road purchase is possible, the nuclear reactor purchase is unlikely, and sometime in the next two weeks, Haney could learn if he has persuaded Major League Baseball to sell him the Nationals for $450 million.
Haney is not considered one of the three front-runners among the eight groups trying to buy the Nationals. But he has enough money and support in baseball to make him a contender if the top three -- Indianapolis media mogul Jeffrey Smulyan, Washington area developer Theodore N. Lerner and a D.C.-based syndicate headed by Frederic V. Malek and Jeffrey D. Zients -- are passed over, according to league sources.
Part of his support comes from Haney's willingness to cover up to $200 million in cost overruns on a $535 million publicly built ballpark, provided he becomes co-developer of the stadium. Haney also wants to have the chance to purchase property around it.
"My business is finance and development," Haney said in an e-mail this week. "I've worked hard over the years with the District government on some pretty big projects and as owner of the Nationals that experience will help in working with the city on the development of the new ballpark. Our desire to buy the team is also fueled by my belief that the District will benefit enormously from the development of a first class, state-of-the-art ballpark along the Anacostia in Southeast. I know that as owner of the team I can be a positive force in helping to make that happen."
People who know him say the stadium proposal is vintage Haney. "Two things are key to Franklin," said developer Jon Kinsey, a former mayor of Chattanooga who worked for Haney years ago. "He's brilliant. And he's an extremely hard worker and just will not accept failure. He will be counted out by everybody, but he will work on it until he can make it happen."
Haney, who has longtime ties to the Democratic Party, has hosted Inauguration Day parties at his Pennsylvania Avenue condo, flown on Air Force One with President Lyndon B. Johnson and with President Bill Clinton, and became close friends with former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. He has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and thousands to Republican candidates in Virginia and Tennessee.
Along the way, Haney lost two elections. He was indicted, and found not guilty, of 42 counts of violations of federal campaign contribution law. He was ordered to pay $12.7 million in damages and $2 million in punitive damages in a bond sale connected to a real estate deal in Colorado. He took over the troubled Portals development in Southwest Washington, home to the Federal Communications Commission, a deal that led to a Justice Department investigation. In the 1980s, his firm defaulted on more than $163 million in bonds and lost or sold hotels in Georgia, Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville and Nashville.
In each instance, Haney regrouped and today calls himself a billionaire. Haney, 65, and wife Emeline Willingham Haney, who live in three adjacent condos on Pennsylvania Avenue, have five grown children, four of whom work in the family business.
"Our decision to bid on the Nationals was a family decision," Haney said. "Washington has been very good to the Haney family over the years and we see the Nationals as a tremendous vehicle for doing good things in the community and as a way for us to give something back. As baseball fans, we also believe in the tradition of family ownership. It provides stability and accountability and if we are fortunate enough to buy the team, we are in it for the long haul."
Politics, Power and Profit
How the son of a foundry worker in Cleveland, Tenn., came to control $10 billion worth of real estate is a tale of smarts and a willingness to take risks that others failed to see or seize.
Haney worked his way through the University of Tennessee by selling Bibles. He moved to Washington in 1963 to work for Sen. Herbert Walters (D-Tenn.) shortly after his father died in a tractor accident. Walters agreed to hire Haney on the condition that he attend law school, so Haney enrolled at George Washington University. He stayed on to work for Sen. Albert Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.) before returning to his home town as a private attorney and staff lawyer for the Tennessee Public Service Commission.
The allure of Washington stayed with him, however, so he ran for Congress in 1966, but lost. The Tennessee Valley Authority had just abandoned plans to build its own offices in the Chattanooga area, so Haney announced he was starting his own real estate development company, hired two experienced federal employees and secured a 20-year lease from the TVA.
His eyes opened to the benefits of becoming a landlord to a government agency, Haney mastered the ins and outs of using the proceeds of tax-exempt bonds issued by government agencies to finance or refinance commercial properties at lower-than-normal interest rates. With that money, he developed hotels, parking garages and office buildings throughout the Southeast, opening offices in Knoxville and Memphis, Birmingham and Atlanta, which he then rented to the TVA, the Internal Revenue Service, the General Services Administration and the Social Security Administration.
He was aboard a Delta DC-9 jet on a rainy Nov. 27, 1973, returning to Chattanooga from Atlanta, when a wind shear caused the plane to crash as it approached the airport. Haney crawled out of the wreckage with a broken back. He reassessed his life and decided to run for governor in 1974.
He lost in the Democratic primary, packed away his campaign signs for good, and turned to behind-the-scenes politicking, based on his friendship with Gore and his increasingly generous campaign contributions. By the end of the 1970s, Haney was managing a $200 million to $300 million business.
Haney, who had developed a reputation as one of the country's most adept exploiters of tax-free bond financing, had a business setback when in 1979 the IRS banned the use of tax-exempt financing for private buildings leased to government. Many cities turned to industrial development bonds, which are federal tax-exempt bonds often used to jump-start new business in deteriorating urban districts. Within two years, Haney convinced leaders in five Southeastern cities to approve bond sales that allowed him to acquire money at below-market interest rates to build convention and airport hotels. He backed the payments with revenue generated by hotel guests.
But a double-whammy of bad news hit in the 1980s, when a bank through which Haney financed some of his projects collapsed, and a tax reform law further limited the benefits of tax-exempt financing. He lost or sold office buildings and hotels, and his firm defaulted on $163 million in bonds. No investors lost money, he noted through a spokesman, because he had insured the bonds.
Yet even in that difficult decade, Haney bought a Coca-Cola bottling company and a Miller beer distributorship from the family of Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark.).
Realtor to the Feds
In the early 1990s, he bought a bankrupt Colorado residential development whose landowners had the authority to issue tax-exempt bonds. He turned his $130 million investment into bonds that resold for $148 million, the Denver Post reported. Then, through complex steps using several companies he created, Haney put the land up for sale, bought it back, and invested the proceeds in the Portals, an office complex in Southwest Washington that the FCC was scheduled to occupy. The Wall Street Journal chronicled this series of transactions in a front-page article in 1998.
The Smith Barney Managed Municipal Fund sued him over switching from Treasury securities to lower quality federal bonds in one of those Colorado transactions. Smith Barney claimed the swap devalued the deal. A jury agreed and Haney was ordered to pay Smith Barney $12.7 million in damages and $2 million punitive fines. Haney paid the fine, but then negotiated a separate settlement, said D.C. lawyer Stan Brand, who represented Haney in a separate case.
"Every businessman at his level has had lawsuits, scrapes with the government and brushes with authority. That's true about everybody in this bidding process," Brand said. "I can say he's been fortunate in that every one of those [lawsuits] has worked out and has not been a problem in the end."
Haney entered the Portals project because its Canadian owners were bankrupt. With proceeds from the Colorado land sale, he refinanced the deal, negotiated favorable lease terms with the FCC, converted the lease into a security and sold the lease-backed bonds to institutional investors in a private placement, BusinessWeek magazine reported.
How he came into the Portals deal was the subject of a Justice Department probe because after the FCC agreed to move into the buildings, he paid Peter Knight, a Gore associate and chairman of the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, a $1 million retainer for legal advice. Attorney General Janet Reno concluded in 2000 that there was no specific and credible information to support the allegation that Knight illegally helped Haney secure the Portals lease.
However, Haney was indicted in 1999 on federal charges that he illegally reimbursed friends, relatives and business associates for making more than $200,000 in contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaigns in 1992 and 1996, and to Tennessee members of Congress, thus evading the $1,000 limit on individual contributions.
After six hours of deliberation, the jury cleared Haney on all 42 counts, persuaded by his defense that he didn't realize federal law bans giving money to others to make the contributions. That same year, Haney donated $10,000 to the renovation of the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory.
In 2001, he proposed to his old tenants, the TVA, that he float $1.3 billion in bonds in a complex lease deal to enable the TVA to restart a mothballed Alabama nuclear power plant. He would then lease the plant back to the power agency. The TVA has so far turned down the offer.
Just as he hired federal contracting officials in his first real estate venture and an aide to the vice president in his Portals venture, Haney hired Corey Busch, a former baseball executive close to Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, for his bid to buy the Nationals. He has donated $600,000 to the Nationals' charitable foundation.
It's a separate deal, but Haney, who is developer and part-owner of the Dulles Greenway, is also offering to pay Virginia $5.7 billion for the right to take over the Dulles Toll Road and build four express lanes on it. He'd kick in $717 million to pay the state's share of extending Metrorail to Dulles International Airport.
Brand, who is also vice president of the governing body for the minor leagues but who is not a formal partner in Haney's bid group, said the businessman would be a good pick to own a baseball team in the nation's capital.
"He has the means and financial wherewithal to stand behind the team," Brand said. "He has been an active player in Washington for over a decade. He's lived here, his children live here and I think he has the kind of business acumen that would serve him well in the baseball world."