The Don Peebles story: Building a $5 billion real estate portfolio

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 15, 2024 11:26 AM EDT
Don Peebles. Photo credit: Don Peebles

Don Peebles is the founder and CEO of The Peebles Corporation, one of the largest Black-owned development corporations in the United States. He leveraged his position as a real estate sales agent and appraiser at the age of 23 to build a real estate empire.

“Dream big dreams. To achieve any dream requires commitment, dedication and hard work. Therefore, you might as well dream big. However, the dreams must be realistically possible,” Peebles said of actualizing his dreams.

Peebles was raised by a single mother in Washington, D.C. He gained early industry insight from his mother who worked in real estate. As a teenager, Peebles spent afternoons working as a Congressional page on Capitol Hill. He had initially planned on a career in medicine but took a leave of absence from Rutgers University following his freshman year and never returned.

After quitting college, Peebles became a real estate sales agent in Washington, DC and started his own appraisal business at 23. He was appointed by Mayor Marion Barry as chairman of the city’s real estate tax appeals board, becoming the board’s youngest chairman. Peebles began his career as a developer in 1986. He worked on his first building at 26, a commercial office building in Anacostia. The project was successful and made Peebles a millionaire. He consequently purchased his first home, a $1 million property in the District’s Embassy Row.

In 1988, Peebles started a tax assessment appeals business. His clients included companies controlled by billionaires Robert Bass and Richard Rainwater. He started advising the lenders when clients began losing property to banks during the 1990-91 recession. Peebles purchased some of the repossessed buildings with as little as 15% of his own cash as a down payment and borrowed the rest from bankers he had befriended.

His deal with Mayor Barry involving a 15-year, $48 million-lease on two buildings in 1995 backfired. He would have earned a profit of $20 million from it. That same year on a family vacation to Miami, Peebles discovered the Royal Palm. He saw an opportunity to benefit from the tourist boom through the dilapidated 1930s-era hotel which was owned by the city.

“The best financial lesson I learned would be go with your instincts. I think that whenever I have gone against my instincts, I’ve lived to regret it,” Peebles said of his career trajectory.

Peebles won the contract for the $10 million plot a year later. He agreed to pay $800,000 in annual rent and buy the land from the city by 2027. He also bought a 45-year leasehold for the Shorecrest Hotel (adjacent to the Royal Palm) at $4 million, putting down just $600,000. He redeveloped the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza Resort into a 420-room hotel. It became the nation’s first major hotel to be developed and owned by an African American.

Two years after joining the luxurious Bath Club in Miami Beach, Peebles bought the property for $10 million.

Peebles Corporation has grown to a $5 billion portfolio of completed or underway real estate holdings. It specializes in developing luxury hotels, high-rise residential and Class A commercial properties across America. The company is one of the largest black-owned development corporations in the United States.

Peeble’s rise to the top has been fueled by decades of political and corporate connections. He has used his influence and wealth to raise money for politicians including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Peebles twice served on President Obama’s national finance committee and is the former chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.