Ted Lerner, Developer Who Bought and Built the Washington Nationals, Dies at 97

“In my first case, the court appointed me to represent a parking attendant accused of stealing cars he was parked,” Lerner wrote in ForbesLife Magazine 2013. “I somehow got his sentence reduced from two years to six months. My client quickly left town without paying me. I realized that there had to be a more rewarding way of making a living, so I decided to devote myself full time to real estate.”

“I had no money,” he recalls, noting that he was 25 years old at the time. His wife was working as a secretary at the State Department, so he asked her for financial help. “She lent me $250,” he said. “That’s how I started.”

Mr. Lerner started selling his home on weekends while in law school, he said Washingtonian Magazine 2007. When he started building a real estate empire, “I took the Jewish holidays off and played a Redskins game or two. Nothing to do for 18 hours a day. (The NFL’s Washington Redskins are now Commanders of Washington.)

Mr. Lerner’s company, Lerner, has become one of the largest private developers in the Washington metropolitan area, constructing malls, office buildings, hotels, private homes, and apartment buildings. He and his family have a estimated net worth is $6.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Lerner’s first shopping center, the open-air Wheaton Plaza (now Westfield Wheaton) in suburban Maryland, opened in 1960.

He opened the Tysons Corner Center, a national model for self-contained, climate-controlled shopping malls, in the late 1960s, and another mall, the Galleria at Tysons II, outside Washington in Fairfax County, Va., in the late 1980s.

As his fortune grew, Mr. Lerner tried unsuccessfully to buy professional sports teams, including the American League’s Baltimore Orioles and the NFL’s Washington Football Team (formerly the Redskins). He eventually bought the Nationals with a $450 million payment for Major League Baseball, which took over the National League’s failing Montreal team in February 2002 and moved it to Washington three years later.


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