Peebles, Upbeat about Prince George's County

James Wright | 5/26/2010, 11:06 a.m.
Wealthy real estate developer and investor R. Donahue Peebles (r) greets Raymond Skinner, Maryland's Secretary of Housing and Community Development, in the Rennie Forum at Prince George's Community College's Student Center in Largo. Photo by Maurice Fitzgerald

One of the country's wealthiest Black men and a possible candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia praised Prince George's County for its positive business environment, especially for small and minority businesses.

Multi-millionaire real estate developer and investor R. Donahue Peebles told an audience of 150 - primarily comprised of entrepreneurs - at Prince George's Community College's Rennie Forum, Wed., May 19, that Prince George's County is an outstanding location for commerce.

"Prince George's County is a mecca for African Americans," Peebles, 50, said.

"It is known as the wealthiest majority-minority hub in the nation and it is a great place to be in real estate development. There is $8 billion worth of development projects taking place here and I am interesting in doing business in Prince George's County."

He said that developments - including Woodmore Towne Centre at Glenarden and Phase II of National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. - showed that the county had forward-thinking leadership in terms of business expansion and credited his host, Prince George's County Councilman Sam Dean (D-District 6), for his work in creating a pro-business environment.

Peebles has been in the news lately because of a possible run for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor of the District of Columbia. Peebles, a District native, hinted of his possible political aspirations throughout his 25-minute address, with statements that included "I've been looking at the political world" and "I will take a pay cut soon."

His company, Peebles Corporation, is the country's largest African-American real estate development company, with a $4 billion development portfolio that includes luxury hotels, high-rise residential and Class A commercial properties and developments in Washington, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami Beach. The corporation was number 18 on the Black Enterprise Industrial/Service 100 list in the June 2009 edition of Black Enterprise and Peebles himself was listed in the top 10 of the wealthiest Black Americans by Forbes magazine in its May 2009 edition.

Many of the entrepreneurs in the audience own small businesses and Peebles applauded their work.

"Small and minority business owners are the most productive groups in our community," he said.

"Small and minority businesses are the backbone of our economy and will fuel the recovery."

Peebles said that what propelled him to his early success was a commitment to insuring that minorities and women received due consideration for city contracting opportunities.

"When Home Rule took effect in the District, which was 1975, only three percent of all city contracts went to minority and women owned businesses," he said.

"Five years later, that number was up to 35 percent. That happened because you had a mayor, Marion Barry, that wanted to see minority businesses get city business."

Peebles also credited Maryland Secretary of Housing and Community Development Raymond A. Skinner for his efforts. Skinner, the former executive director of the District's Office of Business and Economic Development worked to ensure that 35 percent of the contracts awarded in the District benefited minority- and women-owned businesses.

Peebles said that Barry's influence created the environment that allowed him to develop his first building, which was in Anacostia in the late 1980s. During his speech, he recounted many of his successful business ventures throughout the country; however, he cautioned his audience to be keenly aware of undue criticism.

"When I got my first deal in Anacostia, I was accused of being a product of cronyism," he said.

"You know, in this town, cronyism comes in one color. You must prepare for the double standard."

He said that in order to succeed in business, one must be resilient.

"A setback sometimes is the chance for your greatest opportunity," he said. "When you get knocked down, you get back up. You may need to step back and look at it."

Peebles said that despite the double standard, the D.C. area remains viable for Black business owners.

"If Black men and women can make money in D.C., they can make money anywhere," he said.

"You must identify your dream, hone in on your strengths and make your dream a reality."

Dean said that Peebles' advice should be heeded.

"This county has a lot of opportunity to offer but you have to be a risk taker because, if you are not, you are in trouble," Dean, 73 and a candidate for county executive, said.

"You have to know how business operates in this county with the backroom operations and things like that. I think Don Peebles is going to be a major player in Prince George's County."