Housing Complex

Walmart Pullout Threatens to Claim Another Victim: Skyland Town Center

A rendering of Skyland Town Center

If the living wage bill getting a vote in the D.C. Council today becomes law, Walmart says it will cancel three of its six planned stores in the District. And if Walmart cancels those stores, the city will lose out on one of its most anticipated development projects altogether.

Developer Gary Rappaport tells the Washington Business Journal that if Walmart pulls out of the Skyland Town Center project, the whole project will be put on hold. Skyland, at the intersection of Alabama Avenue SE, Good Hope Road, and Naylor Road in Ward 7, is expected to break ground next year and include 476 residential units and 342,000 square feet of retail, anchored by a 125,000-square-foot Walmart store.

As I wrote yesterday, not all Walmart stores are created equal. If, say, the Fort Totten store falls through, something else will take its place—it's a Metro-accessible site in an increasingly active part of town. Skyland is another story. While there's a nearby Safeway with a poor reputation, the area in general lacks good retail options, and Skyland was envisioned as the centerpiece of the neighborhood's rejuvenation, not to mention all the needed housing it would bring.

It's also a huge priority of the Gray administration. Two years ago, Mayor Vince Gray issued an ultimatum to Walmart: Open a store at the long-delayed Skyland or forget about your other planned stores in town. Gray got his way, and Skyland went forward, with the city acquiring the needed land to make it happen.

Skyland as it actually looks.

Just as Walmart's threat to scrap three of its stores might be mostly a political move aimed at generating opposition to the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013—which would require retailers in excess of 75,000 square feet with parent companies generating at least $1 billion per year to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour—we shouldn't discount the possibility that Rappaport, who also opposes the bill, is making his own threat now in order to increase the chance that the bill fails. But whatever the calculus, this does make it more likely that Gray will veto the bill. Given a choice between legislation he's been skeptical of from the start and a project in his home ward that's near to his heart, Gray may give Walmart and Skyland what they want.

Rendering from the Skyland Town Center website; photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • SEis4ME

    As Gray should. The Council was ridiculous in voting for the legislation in the first place and proves that "progressive" ideas don't always make for good policy.

  • AP

    If a "living wage" is so important why not McDonald's, KFC or all other employers?? This was a "Lets Stick it to Walmart Bill" plain and simple which is bad law and policy. DC needs jobs not stunts ! Walmart isn't bluffing people need to understand that this has NATIONAL implications so they can't knuckle under.

  • Eric

    McDonald's, KFC, etc. jobs are usually or at least historically held by young kids just starting out in the job market. There's no need to include these companies yet, especially when most fast food restaurants are franchised out.

  • TGO

    Much as I dis-like Wal-Mart and it's founder's 'heir apparents' and their appalling income from the old man Sam; I have to look at the bigger picture.
    The shopping center at the intersection in question has been a tough area for many years. I have run plumbing service all over DC for the last 25 years, including that location and many homes that surround it. That area deserves a break and if Grey used it as a pivot point to get Wal-Mart into DC, good for him. It is not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. Grey knew what Wal-Mart was when he agreed to the deal. They are predatory and destroy most of the local businesses wherever they show up. However, there are not too many businesses left in that area that will survive another five years, as is, and it is a tough neighborhood. Rappapport is a worthwhile management/development company. I have had dealings with them for many years. While they do have higher end investment properties, the also look to help areas in need. This area is definitely in need and Gary has backed the Skyland project and I'm sure invested a lot of his company's money already. I hope that the right thing is done for this area. It has enormous potential!

  • js_biggs

    Every big box store, from Macy's to Walmart, should close down and pull out of Washington DC.

  • js_biggs

    Good for Walmart. Let the poor eat their young.

  • Ward7-ite

    Per TGO's comments, I'm not a fan of Walmart, either. But speaking as an 18 year home-owner in 'Hillcrest' (the middle-class community for which Skyland Shopping Center forms the eastern border), I can attest that the surrounding community overwhelmingly supports Gray's decision to veto this legislation.

    Skyland was never 'grand', but from aprox. 1946 into the 1980's, Skyland served our community's needs. It was anchored by both a Safeway AND a Giant grocery, the 900+ seat Naylor cinema, a post-office, dry cleaners, restaurants, etc, not to mention one of the largest Sears' department stores in the DC metro area (located immediately across the street from 1956-86, where Safeway is now). But Skyland today is a half-empty, ill-managed shell with a couple of nail-shops and liquor stores, that is mostly a magnet for loiterers. As TGO said: there are no businesses left in our retail corridor for Walmart to 'ruin'! For far-SE, even its middle class sections, the conversation is very, very different.

    There are a dozen studies proving that DC is losing millions in revenue being lost to the woeful lack of retail in SE (most-notably the 2002 Social Compact drill-down study which advocated the rebuilding of both Columbia Heights in NW, and Skyland in SE). Sadly, while Columbia Heights moved forward, Skyland became mired in red-tape until the economic boom went bust in 2008.

    Now, just as Skyland was moving forward again, this bogus legislation came out of nowhere, jepoardizing the return of retail to Ward 7. Further, those residents in Wards 7 and 8 who greatly need entry-level jobs have no employment options in their own community. Had the minimum wage mandate for Walmart passed, any extra money would have been eaten-up by their commute to work in Walmarts and Targets in the suburbs).

    Twenty years of waiting have proven: It's going to take a big-box retailer with pockets deep enough to "risk" being the first to return to far-SE. While I don't "like" Walmart myself, you can bet I will be there often when they open - if only to recognize their willingness to be the first to return (something regional retailers - despite all their talk - have been unwilling to do). The burbs don't need 'another' big-box store. But we in far-Southeast need anything willing to come back and get the ball rolling again!

    Every neighboring ANC, every impacted Civic Association, and the community-driven Skyland Task Force have been laser-clear and united about what is needed for 25 years. We who live here(!) want the wrecking ball to start asap, and for construction cranes to get to work bringing retail, ammenities and employment to Ward 7!