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.
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