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I was 11 years old, over 50 years ago, when I first met Abe. He built Temple Emanuel in Kensington, where my father was the second president. He was just a mid-size developer then. So, I always had great respect for him, since I was a kid. He was always a very humble man, who could deal with anyone in any capacity. I didn’t know him well professionally until the last 15 years. We could never have built Gallery Place without his help and cooperation. At any rate, the city wanted the connection we built in the atrium between the two.
When the city was bankrupt, I was the chair of a 116-person task force of how to rebuild the heart of downtown. That was in 1995. That’s when I started working with him—before I even was considering participating as a developer. It was really a collection of anyone that wanted to participate from citizens associations to developers to the secretary of the Smithsonian—it was quite an eclectic group of people who believed in our city. And the rebirth of our city. Although he was a developer, Pollin was a man with an incredible vision and respect for our city and love for our city.
We basically developed a visual plan of what could be downtown. Two hundred years ago, 7th street was the main street of the city, and then it died out in the 1950s, and our idea was to bring Main Street back alive. They had already built the Shakespeare Theatre on 7th. The goal was to use 7th as the retail core of the city, to literally connect it: At one end, you had the Smithsonian with 30,000 visitors a year. We put the convention center at the other end. It was truly a community effort, but if it wasn’t for Abe Pollin nothing would have happened because he started it. For him to go build the Verizon Center with a risk associated with it—most people would have done it only if the government paid for everything. And bringing his teams into the city at a time was quite a bold and risky proposition. If you walked through downtown then, people were afraid to even go to downtown. People thought it was dangerous.
If he hadn’t committed to the first major project downtown, I don’t think the rest of it would have happened.
Interview cut, edited, and condensed.
Image courtesy of Western Development