They were once political rivals fighting for the District’s mayor’s office, now Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray are both welcoming success on the East End of the city with the topping out celebration of Skyland Town Center, a promising mixed-use development that will deliver a full-service grocery store, housing and retail in Gray’s ward.
Bowser and Gray are both expected at the celebration at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 18, along Alabama Avenue in Southeast.
There they’ll bask in the glow of the Skyland Town Center, which developers said will contain more than 135,000 square feet of retail space and up to 500 residential apartments — about 263 slated for opening next year.
Just as important, Bowser announced that Lidl Grocery will help anchor the development, a major coup for an area that has essentially been a food desert.
“I am excited to work with the mayor and her administration to leverage [dedicated funds of] $9.899 million in surplus funds, and any additional funding certified at the end of Fiscal Year 2019, for pay-as-you-go capital funding to ensure that the District develops all nine of these sites with new full-service grocery stores, retail, and sit-down restaurants,” Gray said after it was announced that the Office of the Chief Financial Officer said the District had reached 60 days operating cash on hand.
That represented a significant fiscal milestone for the District of Columbia and Ward 7 residents because the surplus pay-as-you-go capital funds was greenlighted to pay for the East End Grocery Incentive Act of 2018.
The legislation, which was introduced by Gray, created an “East End Grocery Incentive Program” within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
The Grocery Incentive Program authorized the District to subsidize the construction of new grocery stores and retail co-anchors at Skyland Town Center and other developments.
“Now we have a wonderful opportunity to leverage the District’s reserves to end long-standing food deserts in Wards 7 and 8 while bringing hundreds of jobs to our residents,” Gray said.
“By bringing amenities and jobs to residents in Ward 7 and 8 now, we will uplift the health and employment opportunities in our communities,” he said.
Bowser said Lidl is a “fantastic grocery store — a grocery store that we are proud to be bringing to the residents of Ward 7.”
“Lidl knows what we know — that every corner of Washington, D.C. is a great place to do business,” Bowser said.
Anthony Lorenzo Green, who serves as an advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member district 7C04 in Ward 7 and who has declared for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat that will be contested in 2020, said he knows well about the Skyland project.
“When I lived in Ward 8, I served as chairman of the 8B advisory neighborhood commission and that part of the ward borders the proposed Skyland development,” Green said.
“We negotiated with the developers of the Skyland project at that time because a lot of Ward 8 residents would shop there if it came into fruition. This was when Walmart was supposed to be the anchor of Skyland but the deal wasn’t sealed,” he said.
Green added that while he’s happy for the progress made with Lidl, “we need to hold the government accountable to see that things move quickly for Skyland to fully open soon.”
Lidl U.S. will be a full-service grocery store and will help serve the 150,000 residents who live on the East End of the city in Wards 7 and 8 where there are just three full-service grocery stores in all.
Gray and others have lamented that the lack of full-service grocery stores and access to healthy foods in the area has created food deserts in that part of the District.
He said he’d continue to push for more options.
“I look forward to continuing to work with our partners, stakeholders and my Ward 7 Economic Development Advisory Council to bring even more desperately needed options to the East End of the District,” Gray said.
Meanwhile, Bowser and city officials hope the Skyland Town Center is just the beginning of positive change citywide.
Lidl will utilize 29,089 square feet of the Skyland space and a CVS will also occupy space at the new development.
“We selected Skyland Town Center because it offers District residents an easily accessible, convenient and visible site. Understanding the history of the site and the tremendous anticipation from the community, we look forward to building a store customized for the shoppers of Skyland Town Center,” said Johannes Fieber, CEO of Lidl US.
Landing Lidl was a collaborative effort between Rappaport and WC Smith, companies who spearheaded the retail and residential leasing, along with the District Government, and others like Skyland D.C. and the Washington East Foundation.
“Lidl’s decision to locate at Skyland Town Center means that our future residents will have a top-quality supermarket at their doorstep,” said WC Smith CEO Chris Smith.
Washington Informer writer James Wright contributed to this report.