- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Whether they know it or not, everybody in the District can spot at least one of Douglas Jemal’s buildings almost anywhere in the city.

Mostly, they are landmarks, such as the old Woodward & Lothrop building or the Avalon Theater in Northwest.

Now, Mr. Jemal, 62, who spent the past couple of decades buying and selling some of the District’s most recognizable properties, is facing the prospect of 40 years in prison.

Mr. Jemal and two of his executives have been indicted on charges that they bribed a D.C. official with cash and gifts in exchange for lease deals.

Mr. Jemal and his company, Douglas Development Corp., own about 110 area properties, mostly office, retail and industrial space. About 3.8 million square feet of properties are under lease agreements.

Sandy Paul, vice president of Delta Associates, a Washington real estate data company, said Mr. Jemal had risen to the top of a competitive field.

“Mr. Jemal is a significant player in the D.C. real estate market,” Mr. Paul said. “He’s well-known, but, given the size of the market, he’s only one of many significant players. It’s a very large market.”

A Brooklyn native and son of Egyptian and Syrian immigrants, Mr. Jemal dropped out of school when he was 15 and held several retail jobs. He married in 1964 and two years later came to the District, a destination chosen after one of his six children was born on George Washington’s birthday.

Later in 1966, Mr. Jemal opened the BargainTown D.C. store, where the MCI Center stands today. The store sold electronics, housewares and clothing. The District bought the property from Mr. Jemal in 1971.

In 1976, his family co-founded Nobody Beats the Wiz, a discount electronics and record chain. He sold his stake in the chain in 1994.

In 1981, Mr. Jemal bought his first building, at 1113 F St. NW, because he was tired of his landlord complaining about the loud music from the record store that Mr. Jemal operated there.

In 1985, he formed Douglas Development Corp., and in the next few years his focus shifted from retail to real estate. He was critical in the redevelopment of the Chinatown neighborhood that became home to the MCI Center in 1997.

Mr. Jemal bought the historic Woodward & Lothrop building on 11th and F streets Northwest from the Washington Opera in 1999 for $28.2 million. The building was unoccupied for five years before he reached a deal with Swedish clothier H&M; in 2003 to open a 28,000-square-foot store on the first two levels of the 116-year-old building.

Among his recent big deals was the leasing of 85,000 square feet of office space to the Department of Homeland Security in Northwest last year.

In 1993, Mr. Jemal put $150 million cash on the table in an effort to buy the Baltimore Orioles. He later withdrew the offer and the team was sold to Peter Angelos. In 1998, he flirted with the idea of buying the Montreal Expos and bringing the team to the District.

In April, Mr. Jemal secured land just south of the baseball stadium site on the Anacostia riverfront in Southeast and announced plans to turn the land into a project similar to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Since 2000, Mr. Jemal has contributed more than $17,000 to local political campaigns both personally and through his company.

In last year’s Ward 8 race, Mr. Jemal contributed $500 to Marion Barry’s campaign and $500 to that of Sandy Allen, two days apart.

In last year’s race for an at-large seat, Mr. Jemal donated $3,000 to Harold Brazil’s re-election campaign and gave $500 to Mr. Brazil’s opponent, Kwame Brown, who won the race.

Mr. Jemal also donated $1,000 to the city’s Democratic Party and made a contribution to Republican D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz’s 2004 re-election bid and the 2002 re-election campaign of Republican David A. Catania.

In 2002, Mr. Jemal contributed $4,000 to the Committee to Re-elect Tony Williams. But, Mr. Jemal came under scrutiny for paying $16,000 in air conditioning costs at the mayor’s campaign headquarters he leased to the campaign.

Mr. Jemal also contributed $1,000 to D.C. Council member Jim Graham’s 2002 re-election campaign.

The Ward 1 Democrat, who later served as chairman of a committee responsible for investigating Mr. Jemal, said he met Mr. Jemal at a project site years ago and found him to be a “very casual, plain-spoken and straightforward guy.”

“He is a dynamic and engaging individual who works really hard,” Mr. Graham said yesterday. “Now, whether he is guilty of a crime is a matter for a jury to determine.”

• Robert Redding Jr. and Tom Ramstack contributed to this report.

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