Artist rendering of Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 (Courtesy photo)
Artist rendering of Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 (Courtesy photo)

The development team for Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 has announced the closing of $58.5 million in foreign investment and the signing of a lease by CVS Pharmacy to remain at the development.

The deal has led Mayor Muriel Bowser and her predecessor — and perhaps chief antagonist — Ward 7 Council member Mayor Vincent Gray to both proclaim it a success for their respective administrations.

Both said they weren’t concerned that the project includes a EB-5 loan that lets foreign nationals who invest in the United States and create or preserve jobs to receive a U.S. visa.

President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants have many concerned about the status of certain foreigners and no one can be comfortable suggesting guaranteed visas for anyone under the new administration.

“[EB-5 and immigration] won’t affect this deal. I think it’s not relegated to China,” said Bowser spokesman Joaquin McPeek. “One of the things we wanted to focus on when entering office was making sure that the underserviced and underrepresented communities had access to economic opportunity that other areas of the District has experienced in recent years.

“We have a commitment not only to moving this development forward but delivering to a community that deserves housing and jobs,” McPeek said.

Gray, whose 2014 mayoral re-election campaign was derailed by unfounded allegations of campaign impropriety, said Skyland was a top priority during his tenure as mayor and his administration laid the groundwork for the development.

In a sudden announcement, last year that Bowser said left her “blood mad,” Wal-Mart, which was to anchor Skyland Town Center, pulled out of the project after the District had already demolished a laundromat, beauty shop, fast-food restaurants and even some apartments.

That announcement also allowed for Gray to boast the virtues of his efforts to get the project done.

“We advanced the project by leaps and bounds in a relatively short period of time,” Gray said. “I was delighted to work on the $58.5 million investment, which we were able to advance during one of my two trips to China. I am grateful that CVS, a longtime partner to the Skyland neighborhood, has agreed to remain on site as a tenant, bringing expanded retail to the Skyland development. Hopefully, it will serve as a catalyst for others to come there.”

When completed, the Skyland site will serve as an economic development anchor in Ward 7 to meet many of the residential, retail and employment needs of the East End of the city, including nearby Ward 8, Gray continued.

“In several respects, Skyland’s success is pivotal to the future economic development successes of Wards 7 and 8,” he said.

Still, Trump’s full complement of immigration policies remains to be seen, but Gray said that D.C. officials must remain committed to deals such as Skyland regardless of what happens at the White House.

“The District must proceed in executing our priorities with an approach rooted in optimism. We have to continue to fight for our continuously growing population irrespective of the obstacles,” Gray said.

Skyland Town Center, the first such project in Southeast, is an 18-acre mixed-use development that will deliver 275,000 square feet of retail and more than 400 residential units upon completion.

CVS Pharmacy is a longtime tenant from the original Skyland Shopping Center and has remained open at a temporary trailer location since construction started in 2015.

“We are pleased that CVS will be staying at Skyland and the development continues to move forward,” Rappaport CEO Gary D. Rappaport said in a statement. “There is also significant retailer interest in the next phase of the project and the development team is looking forward to providing significant new retail in Ward 7.”

The Skyland development team and the District of Columbia Office of Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development also recently renegotiated $18.75 million of tax increment financing to allow the construction of Block 2, the first delivered section of Skyland Town Center, to move forward.

Once completed, it will create 84,000 square feet of retail, 263 residential units and hundreds of new jobs in the District.

“The District is committed to advancing development at Skyland Town Center to provide much needed retail, housing and jobs to Ward 7,” said Brian Kenner, the District’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

“Today’s announcement is yet another milestone in Mayor Bowser’s commitment to deliver Skyland to a community that deserves it — no matter the challenge,” Kenner said.

The development team began offsite construction and land development for Skyland Town Center in 2015, then retooled phasing plans for Block 1, the space originally intended for an anchor retail tenant.

Officials said the Skyland Development Team prioritized the delivery of Block 2 to establish a strong community and retail destination that attracts future residents and tenants. On-site construction recommenced November 2016 and the project is moving forward at the intersection of Alabama Avenue, Naylor Road and Good Hope Road in Southeast.

“Look at our track record, we have been bullish on moving longstanding projects forward and identifying job opportunities,” McPeek said. “The mayor has extended the Summer Youth Employment Program and has provided a host of other training programs all in an effort to make sure that all communities, no matter the zip code, has a chance to [prosper].”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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