Housing Complex

Jemal on Jemal

With signature Solo cup. (Douglas Development)

On a fairly regular basis, the nichey news-and-events outfit Bisnow pulls together panels of (usually all white and male) power plavers to lure professionals in various fields with the promise of nosh and networking. I occasionally attend on the off chance that someone might say something interesting. Today, Bisnow hosted a Growth Expo at the Reagan International Building, and invited the two top Dougs in commercial real estate—Donatelli and Jemal—to chat with Mark Ein (whose Venturehouse rents space from Douglas Development in Gallery Place).

Bisnow panelists tend to chatter on about their brilliant market insights. But Jemal, as per usual the only guy around wearing jeans, was fairly glib when it came to the secrets of his success. Here's an edited selection of the conversation, with Ein's questions paraphrased:

Ein: Please, introduce yourselves.

Jemal: We started by buying old buildings that nobody wanted...It got bigger. Lot more headaches, lot more problems, but that's life.

What neighborhoods are you excited about?

I'm very bullish on New York Avenue, so I think prices there are going way up.

How do you decide what emerging neighborhoods to go into?

There really is no rhyme or reason. If it feels right, I'll do it....The reason I hold things for a long time is that I look at the whole painting.

Do you worry when you make these huge buys?

I love to gamble. I never had so much fun with my clothes on....Of course I worry. No, I don't worry. We're all leaving here with nothing, let's have a good time. All we need is for everyone to have that kind of attitude, and we'll be fine.

Do you think the city will ever raise the height limit?

I hope not. The beauty of the city is that the sun shines over the buildings.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, Doug Jemal!

  • RT

    I love Jemal. He's a lovable renegade in a city which has few.

  • Jake

    Amusing quips, glad you published it. Why the qualification about the racial and gender makeup of a business discussion panel?

  • Hillman

    It's now popular to diss Jemal, in part because allegedly he's developed a nasty habit of not paying his contractors. Which is inexcusable if true.

    But if it weren't for Jemal we wouldn't have a Chinatown. We wouldn't have dozens of other projects that bring a ton of tax money to DC, provides jobs, provides restaurant choices, etc.

  • Ben

    The guy who says he loves to gamble because "we all leave here with nothing" is also probably the guy who has a whole lot to gamble with while he's here.

  • http://blogs.forbes.com/stephensmith/ Stephen Smith

    Of course Jemal doesn't want the Height Act repealed – most of his properties are in neighborhoods outside of the central business district, where zoning, not the Height Act, is the main impediment to growth. He benefits from the Height Act, since it pushes high prices further from the core, where his properties will benefit. It's easy to be all high-minded about it when it helps your bottom line.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Stephen Smith

    To be fair, Doug Donatelli followed up by saying he's in favor of keeping the height limits because it makes his (downtown) buildings more valuable. I think Jemal might be just weird enough of a developer to actually have aesthetic preferences as well.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Hillman: Believe me, Jemal not paying, partially paying (or EXTREMELY SLOW PAYING) his contractors is his standard MO, even when business isn't really tight like it is now. You've got to really get in his face, and then you get some crap about how you're his "partner" in the project, while he writes bad checks or one of his lackeys puts you off (if they bother to answer their phone).

    And by the way, the ONLY reason we have a bustling Chinatown is because of Abe Pollin. Abe was rebuffed by the DC government in helping pay for a majority of the Verizon Center, so he decided to build it anyway. Doug Jemal and Abe were tight, so Doug had some inside knowledge of what was going to be built, so he snapped up a bunch of property there and waited for the Verizon Center to be built. It's easy to look like a "visionary" when you have inside knowledge.

    But to Doug Jemal's credit, he puts his money where his mouth is and isn't afraid to sit on real estate for a LONG time in order to maximize it's value. And he's a genuine success story, in that he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, like a lot of "developers" in this town.

  • Lydia DePillis

    Oh, and @Jake: Just because it's how the world works doesn't mean we shouldn't remark upon it.