Why the Circulator’s Going to Skyland: A Theory
Since last November, the District Department of Transportation has been thinking through ways to run a Circulator east of the Anacostia River. Their greatest ambitions were curtailed by the realization that they had only six buses to work with, which meant the route had to be shorter. So now, the route will go from the intersection of Good Hope, Naylor, and Alabama Avenue to the Potomac Avenue metro station.
This has puzzled some observers, who wonder why the route is duplicating a couple of bus routes, and also why the route will be named after Skyland shopping center, when all the retail is now at Good Hope Marketplace. DDOT has responded that the route is the way it is because a round of public comment, including 72 returned surveys, indicated that a route from Eastern Market, over the 11th Street Bridge, that connected to the shopping center was the most popular option.
I think there's a pretty obvious alternative motivation, though. The long-planned development across the street from Good Hope Marketplace, which Mayor Vince Gray has put at the top of his economic development list, has yet to sign an anchor tenant. The city says that legal issues around each parcel needed to make the site whole have held up construction, but having Target bail—and Walmart waffle—is just as big an obstacle, since the whole thing is too big of a risk to build without filling the biggest retail spot ahead of time.
Will Walmart ultimately decide to go into Skyland? It's certainly possible. According to spokesman Keith Morris yesterday, they're still in serious talks with the Rappaport Company about how to make it work. He declined to specify what the issues were that could make or break the deal. But in talking to some of the folks who've done business at Skyland for decades (upcoming story alert!) it looks like transportation isn't one of the site's greatest assets. All of the other proposed Walmarts are either on major thoroughfares, near a metro stop, or—in the case of the 801 New Jersey Avenue location—in more densely populated areas. Despite its proximity to the higher-income neighborhood of Hillcrest, Skyland doesn't boast those attributes to the same degree.
A Circulator bus, running every ten minutes from Hill East, could move the dial a little bit, or at least demonstrate to potential tenants that the city is serious about doing its part to make that site viable. It doesn't mean that's what's driving the decision—DDOT spokesman John Lisle called the idea a "conspiracy theory" when I floated it by him, and a rep from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development said he wished they could claim credit for DDOT's routing choice, but wouldn't.
It sure would help, though.