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Power Play Look homeward: David Cordish relishes the challenge of a project in his own city.

February 04, 1996|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

"He's a Baltimore boy who didn't leave home," says Penny Cordish, David's friend and former wife.

With his grades from Johns Hopkins, he David Cordish could have gone to another law school in the 1960s besides the University of Maryland's. But he stayed here. He made connections and got connected. He chaired Baltimore's housing commission in the 1970s and helped mediate city labor disputes.

Even when Mr. Cordish worked in Washington at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he drove home to Baltimore every night. And as a national developer of shopping centers, he could be based anywhere.

"He just loves the city," Mrs. Cordish says. "I mean, there was never a bigger Colts fan. I didn't want to be around him when the Colts lost."

Barry Levinson's "Diner," a movie about guys growing up in Baltimore in the 1950s, is one of David's favorite movies. That was his era, and Baltimore is where he grew up.

"He was a good step-ball player. You can quote me on that."

The quoted Nolan Rogers, now tour director at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, lived two doors down from the Cordishes on Brooks Lane near Druid Hill Park in the 1950s. Here, families lived well and vertically. On these rowhouses were steps, of course. Standing about 10 feet from the stoop, a player would heave a tennis ball at the steps. If the ball hit the point of the step, it the ball flew over the opponent's head for a double or home run. If the ball hit the crotch of the step, it would lazily float up in the air and be caught for an out.

"Nolan was the best step-ball player," Mr. Cordish says. "I was pretty good."

This wasn't organized sports. Every afternoon was a pick-up game, and all the games and seasons and scores and scuffles have bled into one compact, lovely memory of childhood for David Cordish. A memory of sports, teamwork and success. "My overwhelming memory is of winning."

The boy had confidence. The boy had talent. The boy was going places:

* To City College, where he won a handful of varsity letters. "And he got good grades, but didn't want to be thought of as an intellectual," says former business partner Robert Embry, now of the Abell Foundation. Mr. Embry brought Mr. Cordish to Washington in 1979 to run a new HUD program called Urban Development Action Grants.

"He's tough. He's smart," Mr. Embry says. "He doesn't mind being thought of as unreasonable in business situations."

One can imagine David Cordish being gruff and demanding. And how he loathes the word "no," as in "Sorry, can't be done." "He doesn't like the word 'maybe,' either," says his father.

* To the Johns Hopkins University, where "Cords" once scored three lacrosse goals against Navy. From lacrosse, he learned the value of teamwork. And later, with tennis, Mr. Cordish discovered a connection to his sons.

* To law school at the University of Maryland, where Mr. Cordish was the law review editor. After graduation, he worked with his father for six years until he got "side-tracked" with real estate, Paul Cordish says.

At 86, Mr. Cordish still practices law. He never left home, either. Five generations of Cordishes have lived in Baltimore. In the late 1800s, David's grandfather ran a family business that provided tobacco products to hundreds of corner, neighborhood stores. "We have a history here."

Father and son shared a law office on Eutaw Street before they moved to the Canton House on Water Street, where they continue to work under the same roof. David's son Blake also works there as the company's vice president for development.

* While he was practicing law, a wild thing happened to David Cordish. Not wild like when he was 21 and spent the summer fighting forest fires in Death Valley, working 16-hour days and "sleeping under the stars on top of a mountain."

Not wild like the summer he spent waiting tables at a Hawaiian hotel, working nights and surfing the livelong day. Talk about a tan; the Baltimore kid looked like a local.

Wild like investing $75,000 in a proposed strip mall, of all things. But the developer had to go, so the other partners drafted David to develop the shopping center. He knew nothing about development but knew something about leasing. The opportunity was daunting, but either you walk through an open door or you live with the sound of it closing. If nothing else, Mr. Cordish is adventurous, spontaneous and chancy.

"The day the shopping center opened, that was the end of law for me," he says. "I knew I never could get that feeling in law."

He still owns the Edgewater Shopping Center in Harford County -- his first deal.

Work and play

What's the one thing David Cordish had to do during the blizzard? Naturally, he plowed into work. But He also found an open tennis court. And over the holidays, he was in radiant Buenos Aires, playing in a tennis tournament with his son, Reed. They got tans. They won medals.

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