Is Thomas Wal-Mart’s Smiley Face?

Recently, I asked Council Member, and Chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, Harry Thomas Jr. about the Ward 5 Wal-Mart. Although I feel his answers were written by staff instead of by his own hand, here they are:

1. According to Wal-Mart, they are planning to develop four stores. One of those stores on New York Ave. How will this impact the redevelopment of RIA when more and more big box stores springing up away from the Avenue will draw customers and shoppers away from RIA? Some potential small business owners that I spoke with about this stated that they would not consider RIA if the Wal-Mart, along with the Target/Costco, are down the street. What is your response?

Retail data indicates that the District has only 8.6 square feet of retail per capita compared to 26.4 square feet in the metro area, and 23.3 square feet nationally. It is estimated that DC residents spend up to $1 billion annually shopping in the suburbs—that is a significant amount of retail leakage. Clearly, a significant amount of up demand for retail shopping exists in the District.

I also view the redevelopment of New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue as complementing, not cannibalizing, each other. The two corridors are very different from each other, and development projects should reflect that. Rhode Island Avenue should have its own “main street” identify and feel, with neighborhood serving retail. And while there may be some small business owners who will shy away from Rhode Island Avenue if large national chain tenants are seeking to locate on New York and South Dakota Avenues, I am confident there are other retailers who will Rhode Island Avenue and its “main street” identify as an ideal location.

2. How will you guarantee that traffic does not spill off into the neighborhoods and side streets when a large scale retail complex is put on New York Ave?

Parking for the Ward 5 Walmart project will be self-contained, and the project is located on a major corridor. I plan to work with the development team and DDOT officials to ensure that a sound traffic plan for the project is developed and implemented.

3. What is Wal-Mart proposing to pay for in the way of roadway improvements to alleviate traffic on NY Ave? Will they help construct the tunnel under Bladensburg, which is in the 2006 Comp Plan?

The parcel at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road is currently an eye-sore and filled with non-productive uses that bring no benefit to the surrounding community. We have been coordinating with the local ANCs, civic leaders, and neighbors to bring quality retail to this location.

The site plan is still under development. This is a matter of right development that involves no District funding. The project must apply to DDOT for any curb cut, at which time DDOT will be review, assess, and issue the necessary public space requirements with which the project must comply. The project will also have to undergo a large tract review with the Office of Planning, which is required for commercial and mixed-use commercial development projects of fifty thousand square feet or more. The review includes, among other things, submission of a general circulation plan, including the location of vehicular and pedestrian access ways, other public space and the location and number of all off-street parking and loading spaces, and loading berths and service delivery spaces.

The District’s 2006 Comp Plan does not call for a tunnel under New York Avenue. Rather, the Comp Plan cites a 2005 DDOT study that included a tunnel among its recommendations. At this time, and given the huge costs involved in excavating such a tunnel and the city’s lean budget, the District is not contemplating building a tunnel under New York Avenue. Therefore, assessing District businesses to help pay for a tunnel is not on the table now nor will be in the foreseeable future.

4. How does creating more auto-centric retail locations like the Wal-Mart/Lowe’s shopping center conform to the 2006 Comp Plan’s environmental goals of reducing our carbon footprint by 30%?

The Walmart project doesn’t preclude the District from achieving its goal of reducing the carbon footprint by 30 percent. In addition to the large number of transit-oriented developments underway or planned for the District, the city’s promotion of alternative forms of mass transit like street cars and programs like bike sharing and flex cars will help reduce our carbon footprint. The Walmart project may also help reduce the carbon footprint because Ward 5 residents will be able to shop nearer their homes and not have to drive to other parts of the city or suburbs I also think advent of hybrid and electric cars will also help the District achieve its goals of reducing the carbon footprint.

[RIA Insider editorial note: the Wal-Mart in Ward 5 will need a larger market area than abutting communities to succeed, so that means more cars will drive to the store from greater distances]

5. Back in November 2010, you stated that Wal-Mart conducted a poll at your request and came back with overwhelming support for their store. Wouldn’t you consider this a “fox watching the hen house” kind of poll? Why were you so easy to accept these results?

Some results are irrefutable. Currently, District residents spend $47 million annually at Walmarts located outside the District, and 600 District residents commute to work at Walmarts in suburban locations. We need to spend those retail dollars in the District, and bring those jobs home. Furthermore, the survey of residents was conducted by Lester & Associates, a reputable, Washington DC-based market research firm. This was not a “push pull” survey.

In addition to these questions, I have asked Council member Thomas to address the article in the Greater Greater Washington that “Thomas’ development record in Ward 5 is spotty, at best.” Check back soon for his response.

14 thoughts on “Is Thomas Wal-Mart’s Smiley Face?

  1. My question is why does DC need so many Walmarts? This proposed Walmart at NY & Montana is only 2.8 miles from the proposed Walmart at H & 1st St NW in NOMA. The Walmart in NOMA will at least by Metro accessible (via NY Ave Metro) and is supposed to be smaller and part of a mixed use development.

    I am all for redeveloping that section of New York Ave cause it is a complete eyesore…DC just needs to not jump on the first thing that comes along to fill it. I know people on this blog have pointed out that there is no metro to bring people up that way, but people seem to love going to Georgetown, and there’s no Metro there (by the way, I am in NO WAY under the delusion that this is ever going to be like Georgetown….just pointing that out).

    Additionally, I just want to say to Councilmember Thomas, please do Ward 5 a favor and stop it from becoming a dumping ground for everything that other wards don’t want. When approving something to come here, think “would residents in Ward 2 want this”? If the answer is NO, chances are we don’t either.

  2. Let’s all encourage potential and current RIA businesses owners to attend the following event on Saturday, March 12 and bring their wares. Last year MGM Roast Beef, San Antonio Grill, Chez Hareg Bakery, Total Relaxation, and others businesses in Ward 5 had great food and other items. No businesses EAST of the RIA metro station were present. It’s time that Lace, Taste, Rita’s, Art Enables, and other business owners on the eastern RIA corridor show up to this event and tell DC what it wants this corridor to become. Although, Thomas talks about it being a “Main Street”, it still lacks the basic components of becoming a successful one. We’ve all heard of some facade improvements coming to Lace and National Wine and Liquor. It’s time that these business owners let the world now of the changes they are bringing and how these changes will positively effect RIA and dampen the “Walmart” effect. Contact Victoria Leonard at 202.727.6132 or for exhibiting at the Ward 5 Small Business Emporium. Space is limited so don’t delay! And, RIA residents, please come and show your support!

    Mark Your Calendar to Attend the Ward 5 Community Development Expo and Small Business Emporium on Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Mark your calendar to attend Councilmember Thomas’ Ward 5 Community Development Expo and Small Business Emporium, on Saturday, March 12, 2011. Details are listed below.

    Ward 5 businesses interest in exhibiting at the Small Business Emporium (space is limited so don’t delay!) or attending the mini workshops should contact Victoria Leonard at 202.727.6132 or


    Kellogg Conference Center, Gallaudet University, 900 Florida Avenue, NE


    Saturday, March 12, 2011 – 9:30 am to 4:30 pm

    Event Description

    Morning Highlights (9:30 am – 12:30 pm)

    ·Remarks: Victor Hoskins, Nominee, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development

    ·Development Runway: Significant Retail Projects in the Ward 5 Pipeline

    Moderator: Steve Moore, President, Washington DC Economic Partnership


    – Cel Bernardino, Shops at Dakota Crossing

    – Michael Henehan, South Campus

    – Scott Nordheimer and Vicki Davis, Rhode Island Station

    ·Panel Discussion: Transformational Transportation-Striving to Keep Ward 5 Walkable and Pedestrian Friendly

    Moderator: Harriet Tregoning, Director, DC Office of Planning


    – RJ Eldridge, Director of Planning, Toole Design Group

    – Cheryl Cort, Policy Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

    – Marlene Berlin, Chair, Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action

    – Scott Kubley, DC Department of Transportation

    Boxed Lunch (12:30 pm to 1 pm)

    Afternoon Highlights (12:30 pm – 4:30 pm)

    ·Small Business Emporium: Showcasing the Restaurants, Galleries, Bakeries, and Other Retail Shops of Ward 5 (featuring live jazz from David Cole and the Main Street Blues)

    ·Mini Workshops for Ward 5 CBEs

    -How to Pitch Your Business in Five Minutes
    -Navigating the GSA Procurement Process–St. E’s and Beyond
    -Demystifying the DC Government Procurement Process

    1. Just a point of clarification… Art Enables has only been at it’s RIA location for less than a year. (granted, they were still in Ward 5, but they’re new to Woodridge and RIA)

      1. AE’s former location was still located east of the RIA metro. They were on NY Avenue near 15th or 16th Street NE. This area is more industrial than their new location on RIA. Art Enables just celebrated their ninth year anniversary. They started out at some school in SE. This blog has spoken about their first location.

        Last year, Dance Place was present at the Ward 5 Business Expo. It would be great if AE and other arts related places could be present, too. has just done a piece on the new Dance Place Lofts being built. You might want to read it.

  3. It’s interesting that he uses the metric of square ft. retail per capita. Hasn’t he noticed that we live in a relatively densely populated area called a city? Of course we have a lower square footage per capita… because we have more residents who can easily visit the small stores that are jammed into every nook and cranny available.

    Visit Frager’s Hardware on Capitol Hill or Old School Hardware in Mt. Pleasant (shameless plug, sorry) and you’ll see that DC’s small businesses, the very ones threatened by Wal-Mart [and Lowe’s!], pack plenty of shopping opportunities into every square inch of their 8.6 square feet.

    Frankly, I find it pretty hard to believe that DC residents spend $47 million dollars at Wal-Mart on an annual basis. Where did that number come from? How was it arrived at?

    What’s fascinating is that retail district success in this city, whether it is Barrack’s Row, H Street NE, or the U Street Corridor almost never stems from big-box development. Can you look at the occupancy rates over at the Rhode Island Avenue Home Depot and tell me that’s a success? Time and again, we see Democrats in this city siding with huge corporate interests and the developers to sell out small business owners and the general public so they can make a big score, instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work it takes to build ourselves up through grit, determination, and effort.

    1. The Rhode Island Ave Home Depot shopping center is full, and the Home Depot and Giant stores there are constantly crowded.

    2. And, the Target and Best Buy in the Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant area are full, too! From Lepanto’s website at, RIA and Mt. Pleasant Main Streets share many of the same kinds of businesses including a library, 7-Eleven, laudromat, Arts related stores, ethnic restaurants, liquor stores, etc. Was the Mt. Pleasant corridor impacted negatively by Target coming in? (It looks healthy to me.) Do Mt. Pleasant residents need a special shuttle to get to and from the DC USA Mall where Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. are located?

      A few community groups have periodically been involved in efforts to improve the RIA corridor. The “Woodridge in the 21st Century” banners are an example. Both National Wine and Liquor, Lace, and other RIA stores are getting Community Reinvestment Funds for façade projects, and have used the consulting services and funding from the Latino Business Coalition.

      Last week, I saw a huge Walmart truck in the ‘hood going from Monroe Street on to South Dakota Avenue. The truck not only had the Walmart Logo on it but also the Capital Area Food Bank logo (which is located near Catholic University). “Last year alone [2009], Walmart and the Walmart Foundation contributed more than $2.2 million in cash and in-kind gifts to D.C.-based non-profit organizations including the D.C. Central Kitchen, Rachael’s Women’s Center, Latino Economic Development Corporation, Capital Area Food Bank, Center for Inspired Teaching and many others.” If these Latino Economic Business Groups are related, it’s very likely that Walmart dollars are being used in the RIA ‘hood as well as the Mount Pleasant ‘hood.

      Has anyone noticed another Walmart movement underfoot? In Langdon (between RIA and Langdon Park) I’ve seen at least 4 signs. They say “Walmart: Respect DC or Stay Out.”

      1. Get over the damn shuttle already! I, along with countless other people, will not ride the metro bus. It is gross. How would having a shuttle negatively impact you in any way? It would help a lot more than hurt….not to mention the fact that this whole conversation about the shuttle is completely off topic.

      2. “How would having a shuttle negatively impact you in any way? It would help a lot more than hurt….not to mention the fact that this whole conversation about the shuttle is completely off topic.”

        This IS a transportation issue for which concern has been expressed in this post. People WANT to know how Walmart at NY & Bladensburg Road will effect traffic. So, adding a shuttle is not off topic.

        I don’t like the filth in and on the subway myself. But it’s takes less time using the subway than the bus to get to many places that are near and far. Using a Smartphone App for both bus and Metro arrival helps a great deal. I don’t find myself waiting at stops while people are smoking and spitting all over the place. Ditto for Metrorail entrances. Even listening on an iPod while people denigrate each other on the Metrorail, bus (and blogs) helps, too. Metro does posts signs for people to keep both the subway and bus clean but there are some individuals who won’t comply.

      3. “I don’t find myself waiting at stops while people are smoking and spitting all over the place. Ditto for Metrorail entrances. Even listening on an iPod while people denigrate each other on the Metrorail, bus (and blogs) helps, too. Metro does posts signs for people to keep both the subway and bus clean but there are some individuals who won’t comply.”

        Thank you, Woodie!! THIS THIS THIS is the main reason that I am saving up for private transportation. There are few things that disgust me more than ppl spitting near me, or smoking up my semi-good air on a nice evening while waiting for the bus. It is just too much already–between having to plan to catch buses, burn up hours in travel time alone, sit next to smelly and/or drunk/high people, hearing overly-loud cellphone conversations, etc., Metro (buses),I am through!!! (The trains I will deal with for a bit longer…but not much!!!)

  4. Don’t know about a shuttle, but they will definitely need to increase the frequency of bus service once the Walmart opens. Maybe as part of the parking lot, they can accomodate a large bus stop with coverings for all the people that will inevitable arrive by bus.

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