Count another one who thinks Walmart won’t be all bad: Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. At a D.C. Building Industry Association event at the National Press Club last night, she pointed out that the city still has food deserts, and that the super-retailer was going into several of them with smaller-format stores that will sell a lot of food. “I’m getting a lot of pushback, a lot of brouhaha, about these stores,” she said. “But you know, they’re bringing groceries.”
At the same time, Tregoning emphasized the need for national tenants to bend to the needs of the surrounding area. “We expect you to build something that fits,” she said. “We can’t expect a suburban store to work in our neighborhoods.” She also extolled the virtues of local retail, and wants to work with the smaller independent stores to “up their game” so they can compete with the incoming giants.
It’s a sign of Tregoning’s influence that she’s the one to speak on behalf of the Gray administration to the people who make development happen in the District. True, Gray’s new economic development chief isn’t quite settled yet—but Tregoning has also been the one to meet with national retailers lately, in an effort to woo them to the District. “Washington D.C. is the city of the future,” she described her pitch. “If you want to learn about urban markets, this is the city for you. We have the demographics today that the rest of the country is going to have in 2050.”
The development crowd also met a character with whom they’ll get a lot more familiar in the next few years: Incoming Council Committee on Economic Chairman Harry Thomas, who cautioned them all that he’ll be asking for community value from their projects. “I look around this room, and we have a social responsibility, each and every one of us, to change how people live in this city,” he said. And don’t expect any insider favors. “When you come because you know somebody, that’s a problem,” Thomas said.