Housing Complex

D.C.’s 5th and 6th Walmarts Will At Least Get Urban Design Right

What Fort Totten Square will look like. (Walmart)

You may have heard by now about Walmart's plans to open two more stores in D.C.: One at JBG's Fort Totten Square at South Dakota and Riggs Road NE and another in Ward 7's Skyland Town Center. You might feel overwhelmed by that many Walmarts coming to our little city, frustrated that there's still no city-wide community benefits agreement, or delighted that it's all happening. But one thing you should know about these latest additions: From an urbanism standpoint, they're a lot better than they could be.

From a local perspective, one of my biggest qualms about Walmart is what the mega-retailer could do neighborhoods: Can a big-box store integrate well with its surroundings, creating walkable places where other kinds of small businesses can thrive? The District's experience with other chain-centric developments, like Home Depot in Brentwood, has been rather terrible. And we're still building suburban-style strip malls on D.C.'s increasingly precious land, both with Walmarts and without them—the Shops at Dakota Crossing, the Point at Arboretum, the Georgia Avenue Walmart, and the Walmart at Capitol Gateway will all be one or two story single-use buildings, and most with large areas of surface parking.

But it's hard to have much of a problem with JBG's Walmart development on New Jersey Avenue, which has all the right elements as far as urban development is concerned: Decent architecture, apartments on the upper floors, smaller stores fronting the street. And fortunately, Walmart's fourth and fifth stores—both at 120,000 square feet—are more in that vein. Skyland is a cohesive master plan with 468 housing units, allowing new residents to walk to get their groceries. Same with Hickok Cole-designed Fort Totten Square, which will have some 300 apartments and sit blocks from a metro station.

So yes, Walmart, meh. But at a time when other big retailers are cutting back, the company's willingness to keep signing leases will allow a couple good new developments to move forward where they otherwise might have never happened.

  • Stuart Tyler

    Good post. these sites would lay fallow if not for Walmart.

  • Ronnie

    Capitol View site is being modified to allow for future higher density with buildings other than Walmart (based on market demand). Note that there are acres of vacant land out here.

  • DC Guy

    It seems like the Ft. Totten and GA Ave stores are relatively close together. I suppose Ft. Totten will draw from Prince George's County.

  • Uchenna

    Well once the city decided to lay down the red carpet for Walmart, then yes it became difficult for other businesses to decide to make the calculus to enter the city in underserved areas. However, it was not a foregone conclusion that these sites would lay fallow, but for Walmart, until the city decided to open the doors wide to Walmart. This is absolutely a poor reflection on the mayor's office to have 6 Walmarts planned for the city, with more to come.

  • http://www.lowbradc.com Low Brau DC

    I am excited about all the developments that are planned for the Fort Totten area. Honestly, was not expecting a Walmart to be part of the plan. It will be interesting to see how the smaller retail co-exists with the big box. In addition, this would probably make the Giant down the road on Riggs fall pretty flat (not to mention all the other stores there).

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    I suspect the Fort Totten Walmart with be a grocery store only (Neighborhood Market). The thing about the "urbanism" as you point out is that it is completely dependent on the developer. It happens that JBG is focused on urban mixed use development. Other developers are not. So if the site is one Walmart likes, they'll take it, regardless of how it will be developed. Walmart just wants to be in the city, they don't care how when it comes to whether or not the development plan will be suburban-oriented or urban-appropriate.

    Plus, the JBG development at Fort Totten competes with the Cafritz Foundation project. I presume that the grocery store that was included in the proposal (I heard talk about a Safeway at one point) won't come about as a result of the Walmart.

    http://www.eekarchitects.com/community/3-inside-eek/61-art-place-at-ft-totten-obtains-pud-approval

    Remember too that there is a Giant Supermarket in MD, on the DC-MD border, less than 1/2 mile from the JBG site. (In fact, the Giant used to be located there until the early 1990s.)

  • dclioness

    I really don't care what the buildings look like. It's the jobs that matter over here in Wards 7 and 8, and they're lousy jobs. Wal-Mart will repatriate its profits to Arkansas, not re-invest in DC, and its company store model will be fulfilled: local businesses will fold, we'll only be able to afford to shop at Wal-Mart, and our taxes will subsidize the food and healthcare they don't provide their workers.

    It feels like being run over by a bulldozer, from announcement to buying goodwill with Tavis Smiley at National Geographic and other local donations to done-deal proclamations. Yes, Skyland needs an anchor. That it's Wal-Mart is testament to how thorough the race to the bottom is in the US economy right now. No amount of happy talk makes this OK.

  • TominMichiganPark

    As a national real estate consultant, I have mixed feelings about Wal-Mart. It has, in fact, hurt some small businesses, many of which were undercapitalized and marginal players to begin with. OTOH, it has expanded the economies of countless jurisdictions nationwide. I am not qualified to address the labor issue.

    I have only ever shopped there once: a desperate measure at 2 am for clean underwear at a 24-hour store in Tampa after my luggage failed to arrive. While I won't shop at the DC stores, I fully support their entry to the city. Today, $2.5 BILLION (yes, BILLION) in retail sales are spent each year OUTSIDE of DC by DC households. That's an incredible statistic, and the city loses jobs, property tax revenues, and retail sales tax receipts as a result. Wal-Mart will stem some of that annual sucking sound.

    Moreover, these 6 sites are in DESPERATE need of redevelopment. Lowe Enterprises, developer of Ft. Totten Square, is one of the country's best developers, and focuses on high-quality, urban in-fill projects. Compared to the vacant, forlorn ghetto that is the intersection of Riggs/South Dakota today, this is a HUGE improvement, and the concept drawings are quite striking. Beyond net new job creation, each of these projects will generate substantial new property tax revenues for DC-to the benefit of all residents.

  • deborah

    Walmart brings revenue to the city, not to mention jobs to some people who may have otherwise hit you upside the head, just so they could eat. People will cry no matter what, nothing pleases them, just plain old misery.

  • trulee_pist

    @dclionness, given the current state of the DC economy, I'm not sure I understand why you turn your nose up at "lousy" WalMart jobs. If the jobs are not worth the salary and trouble, the associates can quit Wal-Mart and they will. If the jobs are better than what they have going on now, they'll probably stick with their "lousy" Wal-Mart jobs. Why do you denigrate the jobs? I hope DC residents get most of the Wal-Mart associate jobs at the 6 new Wal-Marts!

  • Randall M.

    First, I think 6 Walmarts are too many. The saturation of the market is part of it's playbook but I just think it's bad optically.

    That said, I'm not really concerned about Walmart's affect on small District businesses (Target, Shoppers, Giant, CVS, and Best Buy, should be concerned). I think local businesses that are strong or moderately so will still have people shopping at them, in fact, I think some local stores may benefit from Walmart if they build stores that include residential and are scaled to the street(Honestly, I'd like all DC Walmarts to have residential). Like in Columbia Heights, once people go to DC USA (bad building), they have a greatly likelihood of going to the dry cleaner or the wine store across the street.

    While Walmart can offer the occasional low price, they can't provide the personal knowledge and services that a smaller local business can. In addition, I would suggest that many District shoppers will demand a quality operation, they will not purchase unappealing clothing for example, so they will shop at other stores.

    Regarding wages and benefits, it behooves Walmart to pay competitively because they don't want to fail spectacularly because their front line employees are over worked and under paid.

  • Hillman

    DcLionness:

    I can pretty much guarantee you that the people WalMart hires are already on government assistance. If anything them getting a job will cut down on how much taxpayer assistance we give them.

    And are you aware that DC already subsidizes grocery stores in DC with a MASSIVE tax break (Yes Organic on Pa Ave SE got a $900,000 tax subsidy).

    Are you ok with that, as long as it's not WalMart?

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