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The McMillan Sand Filtration Plant site is a 25-acre plot of land north of Bloomingdale. In the mid 1980s, the plant closed, leaving the city to determine how to redevelop the land. In December, Vision McMillan Partners, a group of developers, unveiled plans to transform the parcel into a mixed-use community with housing, retail, office space, and park land. Since that time, rumors, conspiracy theories, and chatter about the project have sparked huge debates about the project.
CONSPIRACY THEORY NO. 1: Trader Joe’s is a pipe dream. The retail’s going to be cheap chicken joints. In the mix of the developers’ unveiling of plans was their “Retail Merchandising Strategy,” a strategy punctuated by the names of recognizably nice restaurants, stores, and groceries. Among them: Ray’s the Classics, Cactus Cantina, Sala Thai, Busboys & Poets, Ceviche, CVS-CVS!-Griffin Cycle, Harris Teeter, and Trader Joe’s.
It was all very exciting. But to some in the audience, it smelled like a ploy: Dangle a Yes! Organic Market in front of a bunch of fringe-y neighborhood residents, and of course they’ll support development. Then, the developer does whatever the developer wants and/or was planning to do all along.
At the Tuesday residents-only meeting, Jim Wieber presented one version of this theory: “If you look at their drawings, the development’s perfectly upscale.” And the problem? “They can bring in cheap strip-mall designers to design that,” he says.
But the first to poke holes in the retail strategy was probably Paul Andrew Kirk, the Bloomingdale resident who launched the blog No Drilling at McMillan in late 2008.
In a December post, Kirk tackled the developer’s list, calling it “sexy fantasy retail.” He wrote: “All of this talk about sushi restaurants and a Trader Joe’s is complete propaganda. The developer has NO control over who pay rents here.”
Kirk, or someone claiming to be him, is also active on the Greater, Greater Washington blog, where he writes about the hoards of people who will clog up the neighborhood, “driving in to enjoy the next fried chicken joints.”
Countered another resident: “I would like mr. kirk to give me one scrap of information that would lead anyone to believe that the retail at this location would consist mostly of ‘fried chicken joints’Š”
Next, a developer representative railed on Kirk’s “repeated diatribe about check cashing places and chicken joints,” saying she had “no idea where he’s getting this information.”
Then Kirk pointed out that Cluck-U Chicken was also on the developer’s merchandising strategy list, at which point another commenter decided he/she had had enough: “What is wrong with Cluck U chicken?????”
Coming to the defense of developers is EYA President Bob Youngentob. He says his group, which is composed of six development companies, could potentially bring in additional companies to develop parts of McMillan’s retail. But they wouldn’t clog up the area with KFCs and Yumses.
“Bloomingdale and the hospital center-these are great areas,” Youngentob says. His feeling abbreviated: People there can afford nice stuff. So that’s what they’ll be able to buy. “The area’s starving for quality retail,” he says. “I hear the fears. But, I’m not sure why that perception exists.”
Image by Darrow Montgomery