Everything You Need To Know About The Biggest African-American Developer
In honor of Black History Month, Bisnow is profiling the most prominent African-American real estate figures in the country. That continues today with our snapshot of Don Peebles.
- Roy Donahue "Don" Peebles is the founder and CEO of Peebles Corp, the largest African-American-owned commercial real estate developer.
- His net worth is estimated to be $700M.
- His company's portfolio totals more than 6M SF and $5B in hotels, high-rises and other commercial real estate assets.
- Don considered running for mayor of DC in 2009 (and is rumored to now be considering a run in New York), but later decided against a run due to his mother-in-law's illness.
A College Dropout Turned Real Estate Prodigy
Don got his first taste of the real estate industry from his mother, who owned her own real estate brokerage firm. As a teenager, Don began volunteering for political campaigns, and served as a page on Capitol Hill in high school. But it wasn't until Don went off to college that he decided to enter real estate as a profession.
"Going to college was a letdown for me," Don wrote in an essay for Inc. After one year as a pre-med student at Rutgers, he dropped out and started working as a sales agent and, later, a property appraiser. His early political work paid off: At 24, then-DC mayor Marion Barry appointed him chairman of the city's real estate tax appeals board.
A Growing Empire
In 1986, Peebles acquired the rights for his first real estate development: a 100k SF Class-A office building in DC's Anacostia neighborhood. When construction broke ground, Peebles was only 27—and that was just the beginning. By the early 1990s, Don had established himself as a power player in DC real estate development.
In 1995, he rocketed into the national spotlight when he decided to bid on the redevelopment of the 1930s Royal Palms, a 417-room resort in Miami. Six years later, the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza became the first African-American-owned resort in the US. Since then, Don has extended his real estate portfolio with new developments all over the country–from the Marriott Convention Center in DC to the Viola Back Bay in Boston.
A major turning point in Don's career was the acquisition of Miami's prestigious Bath Club in 1998—a private beach club that once excluded African-Americans, as well as Hispanics and Jews. "The projects we tend to be attracted to are those that have greater impact, greater symbolism,” Don told Forbes. "Our No. 1 focus is that our buildings are vehicles or symbols of opportunity. Our goal is to develop projects that transform communities."
That's the same philosophy behind Don's political ambitions: the real estate entrepreneur has been recently mulling a mayoral run in New York City against Bill de DeBlasio. "I see that New York City is really going in the wrong direction and someone needs to do something about it," Don (here pictured with son R. Donahue III) said last October.