Housing Complex

Don’t Hold Your Breath for Bulldozers—or Walmart—at Skyland


The D.C. Historic Preservation Office sent out its regular "raze applications" email yesterday afternoon. But this edition of the email was dominated by addresses on Alabama Avenue SE, Good Hope Road SE, and Naylor Road SE—all part of the long-anticipated Skyland Town Center development.

The city selected a team led by the McLean-based Rappaport Companies to develop Skyland all the way back in 2002. More than a decade later, does Rappaport's raze permit application, filed in conjunction with the city, mean the project is finally about to get underway?

Not quite, says Rappaport CEO Gary D. Rappaport. The expected anchor of the development is one of D.C.'s six planned Walmart stores. But with Walmart threatening to scrap plans for at least three of its stores, including the one at Skyland, if Mayor Vince Gray signs the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013—which would require big retailers like Walmart to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour, minus benefits—Rappaport said last month that the whole project would be put on hold if Walmart pulled out.

Rappaport says that raze application aside, that's still the case.

"We do absolutely believe that if this Large Retailer Accountability Act gets passed, Walmart will not be there," he says. "We don’t know what that means for the project, but surely it wouldn’t start anytime soon."

The city still owns the land at Skyland and will have to sell it to the Rappaport-led development team before demolition can begin. But with mounting evidence that Gray may be leaning toward a veto, the raze application allows the developers to get things ready for an eventual bulldozing. Rappaport says he was planning to break ground next April, but that that date will likely be pushed back because Walmart has stopped doing any planning work on the project.

As long as Skyland's lead tenants is up in the air, Rappaport says, the city won't transfer the land to the development team. "They’re not going to do that until we have a viable project, and right now we don’t have a viable project," he says.

Rappaport says his company has "invested a lot of money" in the site over the past decade-plus, without even owning the land. He remains optimistic that the project will happen. "We’ve always believed that it’ll get done," he says. "We’re developers. We’re optimistic people."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • tntdc

    That huge parcel for the NY Avenue WalMart was razed some time ago but still sits empty.

  • Hillman

    I wouldn't blame Walmart a bit for pulling out.

    I'd even support them in suing DC to get all of their planning and construction costs back.

    The Walmart wage bill is clearly aimed only at Walmart.

    And it's a violation of all that we undoubtedly promised them in the 15 years we wooed them.

    I'm not a Walmart fan. Their stuff is largely junk (go to Target and pay 10 percent more and the quality is much better), they do in fact treat employees poorly, etc.

    But we sweet talked them for years.

    Then when they commit we pass this idiotic legislation, while exempting all of their competitors.

    I'm sure a good business lawyer could make a good lawsuit out of this.

  • Ward7-ite

    Per Hillman's comments, I'm not a fan of Walmart, either. But speaking as an 18 year home-owner in 'Hillcrest' (the community where Skyland Shopping Center is located), I can attest that the surrounding community overwhelmingly agrees that (per tntdc's comment) an empty lot would be BETTER than what's there now. At least an empty lot can be fenced-off and monitored.

    Skyland was never 'grand', but from aprox. 1946 into the 1980's, Skyland served our community needs. It was anchored by both a Safeway AND a Giant grocery, a 900-seat cinema, a post-office, dry cleaners, restaurants, etc, not to mention one of the largest Sears' department stores in the DC metro area (from 1956-86). 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. While I regularly patronize the Safeway across the street, I haven't set foot upon Skyland for nearly a decade (nor have most of my neighbors).

    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, due to the issues partially outlined in this article, Skyland became mired in red-tape until the economic boom went bust in 2008.

    Now, just as it was moving forward again, this bogus legislation came out of nowhere. When I bought my home in middle-class 'Hillcrest' in 1996, the redevelopment of Skyland was 'just around the corner.' Twenty years later(!), the solid middle-class communities of Penn-Branch, Hillcrest, Randle Highlands and Dupont Park (where I'm now on my 2nd home in Ward 7) still are denied even basic retail options. 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 particularly like Walmart myself, you can bet your life 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. Southeast needs anybody willing to come!

    What we do not need is suburbanites with every retail ammenity imaginable telling us what Southeast DC does and doesn't need. Nor do we need folks working out their philosophical issues with Walmart at our expense. 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 want the wrecking ball to flatten Skyland with all deliberate speed, and for construction cranes to get to work bringing retail, ammenities and employment to Ward 7! ...and we want it Yesterday!