- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Lerner Enterprises, one of the area’s largest commercial real estate development companies, is known for building successful retail and office properties while keeping its privacy and its word, area real estate professionals say.

Theodore N. Lerner, the newly christened owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team, has developed more than 20 million square feet of office and retail space and 28,000 homes and apartments, almost all in the Washington area. Lerner Enterprises’ most notable properties are Tysons Corner Center, White Flint mall and the Washington Square office building.

“Their centers are well-managed and their retailers seem to do quite well because of that,” said Richard Lake, managing principal at Madison Retail Group and principal owner at Roadside Development Corp., who has brought retailers to Lerner’s projects.

The Lerner group is known for conducting its business quietly. Members often shy away from reporters’ queries about Lerner’s projects and declined to speak publicly throughout the bidding process for the Washington Nationals.

“They’re quiet; they’re not boastful. They’re not in your face, and that probably comes from their humble beginnings,” Mr. Lake said.

Mr. Lerner began selling homes on weekends to support his family after his father’s death in 1946. He founded Lerner Enterprises six years later and opened its first major project, Wheaton Plaza, in 1960. Australian company Westfield Group bought the shopping center in 1999.

Observers say the quiet business approach will be positive for the Washington Nationals because it will keep the focus on the fans’ experience and the players.

“They understand people are going [to go to Nationals games] not because of them,” Mr. Lake said. “They go because [the Lerners] won’t disappoint the fans. … I sense they’re going to treat the Nationals and the new stadium as their jewel property.”

The Lerners are “top-flight” people and businessmen, said Jonathan Cordish, a family friend and vice president of Cordish Co., a Baltimore company involved in developing land north of the ballpark.

“They’re very savvy business people,” Mr. Cordish said. “They’re detail-oriented, very committed to what they do and they deliver.”

The Lerners call their detail-oriented approach to their properties “the Lerner way,” said Jennifer Millman, an executive recruiter at Millman Search Group, a Baltimore retail and shopping center consulting company. She has placed 10 executives at Lerner Enterprises in the past three years.

“They manage their office buildings and retail holdings as if every single one were a five-star hotel property,” Ms. Millman said.

Mr. Lerner also brings retail muscle that could be valuable to developing the dilapidated area surrounding the stadium. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams set up the public-private Anacostia Waterfront Corp. to develop a mixed-use entertainment district on the waterfront.

“You can expect the Lerner family to take serious interest in not just what’s happening in the stadium, but also coming and going to the stadium,” Mr. Lake said.

Lerner’s projects in Tysons Corner and White Flint have combined retail, residential and commercial space. City officials want a similar mix in the ballpark area.

Lerner has made other ventures into sports. In 1969, Mr. Lerner hoped to bring a basketball team to Washington by proposing a $20 million sports and convention center complex in Oxon Hill. Years later, he submitted a bid for the Baltimore Orioles. Son Mark D. Lerner is a minority owner of the Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and Verizon Center.

The Nationals is the second entertainment investment in which Lerner has been involved. The company is invested in Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex in Manhattan, Lerner’s only investment outside of the Washington area and, until now, the company’s only entertainment investment.

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