It’s been 30 years in the making for residents in Ward 7 but on June 21, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, cut the ribbon on Phase 1 and broke ground on Phase 2 of the new Skyland Town Center, the largest housing and commercial construction project in Ward 7.

The Crest, the first residential property at Skyland and located at the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Naylor and Good Hope roads, opened Monday. It features 263 homes, a mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments, as well as a fitness center and courtyard pool and grills.

Of the 263 units, 53 have been set aside for those earning up to 80% of Median Family Income (MFI) with 26 designated as workforce units (80 to 120% MFI).

Dozens of Ward 7 residents, along with city officials and the developers, escaped from the scorching sun under a large blue tent where they celebrated the opening of Phase 1 of the project — its completion long overdue by most accounts.

“As a community, we have waited a long time for this,” said Ward 7 ANC Commissioner Tiffany Brown (7D02) whose single-member district serves as home for the new development.

“Today, as we celebrate the ribbon-cutting of The Crest and the groundbreaking of Phase 2, we, the community, must hold the developers, the city and ourselves accountable for the success of this Town Center,” Brown said.

Reflecting on the series of public hearings, letter writing and broken promises, Brown repeatedly proclaimed, “This is our town center and we are delighted that it is here with the many retail offerings that are coming … and I am especially excited about Roaming Rooster.”

For decades, Skyland wallowed in disrepair. Once home to a Giant Food grocery store, post office, CVS and several locally-owned businesses, promises to revive the dilapidating commercial property went unfulfilled.

And while members of the community eagerly awaited Walmart the retail giant eventually reneged and walked away.

In addition, a restrictive covenant held by Safeway, located across the street, also dampened hopes of a new grocery store coming to Skyland. In well-planned negotiations, Bowser agreed to pay Safeway $900,000 per year for four years beginning in 2019 to remove the covenant and allow the project to move forward.

“Some projects are hard,” Bowser said. “That’s why we’ve been at it for 20 years under Mayor Marion Barry, the city for 30 years and the community for longer than that.”

“What I am proud of is that we are here to celebrate,” she added. “I am proud that this project will be an example for the rest of what we’re going to do for Wards 7 and 8.”

Both Bowser and John Falciccio, deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development, used the occasion to promote the mayor’s 2021 budget which includes $58M to expand access to grocery stores and sit-down restaurants in Wards 7 and 8 over the next three years. It also includes $3M over two years for the D.C. Nourish Fund.

With these budget proposals, the mayor wants 95% of all residents in Wards 7 and 8 to be within walking distance of a grocery store.

“We must call on the full council to get them to support this bill,” Falciccio said, “We need them to support the mayor’s budget and to bring more grocery stores to Wards 7 and 8. We need to call on the council to get that $58 million.”

Of the 93 grocery stores in D.C., only three are in Wards 7 and 8 he noted.

“It’s been a labor of love — it’s been labor,” said Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray, who recalled being mayor when the project began.

“There were so many days we thought this would never happen,” Gray added. “It took perseverance.”

Retailers slated to occupy space at Skyland include fast-casual restaurants Tropical Smoothie Café, &Pizza, Maizal, Mezeh and Roaming Rooster. A drive-thru Starbucks – the first of its kind in the District — will complete the new retail phase.

Other retailers include: CVS, Skyland Nails and Spa, Chase Bank and Like That Barber — a neighborhood “institution” that has been serving families in Wards 7 and 8 for 30 years.

Lidl will anchor the new retail block with a 29,000 square-foot grocery store, the first in D.C. Slated to open in fall 2022, Lidl will be the first full-service supermarket to locate east of the Anacostia River since 2007.

Eagle Bank provided the financing to develop Phase 1, along with several other local investors, including WCSmith. PNC has committed to finance Phase 2 that’s slated for completion by the end of 2022.

“This is a considerable milestone in realizing the Skyland dream and vision of a vibrant mixed-use development that empowers the historically-underserved community of Wards 7 and 8,” said Gary D. Rappaport, chief executive officer of the retail real estate company Rappaport.

“We are proud of the work that went into completing Phase I and excited to break ground on Phase 2 … and there’s more to come,” he said.

Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper in 1964. The Washington...

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