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2004-08-28
Washington, D.C. Wal-Mart Says No Way Inside the Beltway.

Area residents in the Brentwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. are celebrating today the short life of a Wal-Mart discount store proposal. The giant retailer announced Friday that it was pulling out of a plan that some city officials were pushing on the neighborhood. The withdrawal made Wal-Mart appear capricious, and local officials look foolish. The Brentwood store would have been Wal-Mart's first venture inside the so-called Beltway around the nation's capital. The spot selected was once slated to be a Kmart, but when that retailer went into bankruptcy in 2002, the plan was never activated. The existing shopping center already has a Giant food store, which is owned by Wal-Mart rival Royal Ahold, and a Home Depot. According to the Washington Post, when Wal-Mart decided to walk on the project, city officials were "stunned." Company big wigs actually visited the site, and returned to Bentonville, Arkansas, where they made the fatal decision on the project. The project was slated to be around 100,000 s.f. in size -- roughly an "Urban 99" supercenter size, although the neighbors believed the store would not be a supercenter. "It floors me," one spokesperson for a developer said. "We had almost everyone on board." Everyone, that is, except the people who live all around the site. Wal-Mart, as usual, offered little explanation of why it was pulling out, but the Post cited two insiders on the deal who claim that the site was too small and the parking lot in the Rhode Island Place shopping center not ample enough to satisfy their needs. The layout of the site would have made it difficult to expand the building or its parking area. A Wal-Mart public relations person told the newspaper that "after reviewing the site and evaluating our operational needs, we decided the site does not meet the requirements to best serve our customers." As is also customary when Wal-Mart pulls out, the company stated that it was still "very interested in the Washington, D.C., market," which is company code for 'we'll be back, soon.' The D.C. office of planning and economic development, which was advocating the Wal-Mart as part of the economic revitalization of the area, said they were disappointed in their loss -- but that reaction was the polar opposite on the streets of Brentwood. While the size of the lot was small, the size of the opposition was growing larger with each passing day. A group called the D.C. Citizens for Responsible Growth had formed (and contacted Sprawl-Busters several times), and the area's AFL-CIO had come out against the plan. "I am thrilled," Heather Phipps, head of the Citizens for Responsible Growth, told the Post. "Whether it was a small parking lot or activists that made this happen, I am glad we no longer have to fight off Wal-Mart."

What you can do: Local officials can say the site was too small, but one has to wonder what took Wal-Mart all these months to make a decision? Or was the shadow of opposition, and the liklihood of on-going resistance from the neibhbors more important than the size of the parking lot? Clearly the Wal-Mart location would have been the start of a very protracted battle in the heart of a major media market, something that Wal-Mart does not need. Urban fighters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and elsewhere have given Wal-Mart buckets of bad ink, and the retailer may have seen a quick departure as preferable to more headlines in the newspaper. Whatever the reason, it's another victory for sprawl-busters everywhere.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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