Legal Times: What is keeping the Washington office busy these days?
Jeffrey Lesk: Some of the strongest practices in the office now are at the intersection of government and business — whether that is government and real estate or government and finance. This is a government town. The busiest practices are ones dealing with transactions and litigation that are affected by or involve the government in some way. We also do an awful lot of work with public-private partnerships — transactions that are using government support in other ways to have the private sector deliver the socially important product.
LT: What is an example of a public-private partnership?
Lesk: There is a fairly recent program in the last 10 years called the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which is focused on community revitalization. It is providing government incentives for financing projects within designated census tracts. There is a concept in the history of our country, which is a terrible one, called redlining. The concept was where banks and financial institutions looked where they were going to make loans in some of our communities and said those aren't very good risks because the wrong people live there. They reportedly took out red pens and maps of the city and would say, "We're going to lend here and not lend here." This program is sort of an anti-redlining program. We are only providing support for these communities on this side of the red line.
LT: What are some local examples of projects funded in part by the New Markets Tax Credit Program?
Lesk: For some reason theaters have been great projects. They are called catalytic projects. They tend to be historic buildings in neighborhoods that if you get that structure done, almost automatically it encourages restaurants, bars, things that support that. The Atlas Theater on H Street — that is an example of financing that went into a neighborhood with the idea of a focal project that could spawn other development in the area. The Howard Theatre was a tax credit program and now look at all the cranes in that area and the development. It is great that CityCenter is going up and we have development in these neighborhoods, but for several years there really hasn't been a lot of new development in the city. These projects have gone up through that because of the federal subsidies. That is what made the difference.