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A familiar face in D.C. Wal-Mart deal
Company lobbyist has financial interest in land chosen for store
Yet the 1999 lease memorandum signed by Mr. Kimbrough simply summarized the ground lease between the District and the Bennett Group and allowed the $10 million lump-sum payment that had been due in the second year of the lease to be postponed until 2018.
“I have a vague recollection,” he said, unable to offer details of why the decision was made.
Meantime, the Bennett Group sharply increased the parking lot rent from roughly $400,000 per year in 2001 to more than $675,000 in 2010.
In 2007, under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the District imposed a $750-per-day penalty as of Jan. 1 of this yearfor each day the Bennett Group allowed the property to languish. After Jan. 1, 2013, the penalty increases to $1,500 per day.
“You can argue correctly that 20 years is an incredibly long time for that property to lay fallow,” said Lars Etzkorn, the District’s chief property manager at the time.
Though he noted that market conditions can be a determining factor in urban redevelopment, Mr. Etzkorn, now a director of finance and economic development for the National League of Cities, concluded that the Bennett Group was able to take advantage of the District’s less-than-optimum land-use practices.
“That’s kind of crazy,” he said. “Why wasn’t the city allowed to share in some of the revenue until development occurred?”
Mr. Restivo, Wal-Mart’s spokesman, declined to say how the company identified the New Jersey Avenue property as a development site. He provided an article from The Washington Post that profiled the company’s real estate broker, John Meyer, and insisted it was self-explanatory.
But the article does not address Wal-Mart’s interest in the Ward 6 parcel it intends to develop as part of a multiuse complex. It does identify, however, the official responsible for marketing available property to retailers seeking to develop stores in the District.
Keith Sellars, senior vice president for the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, which works with the deputy mayor's office, said he recalls discussing with Wal-Mart three of the four parcels slated for development - but not the property at New Jersey Avenue.
Mr. Meyer told The Times that a developer told him of the property some time ago, but he could not recall when and declined to identify the developer. He said he learned of the property before he met Mr. Wilmot and that he could not recall being informed of the lobbyist’s financial interest in the property.
“Mr. Wilmot had nothing to do with this,” he said.
Yet in discussing the history of the property, Mr. Meyer acknowledged what D.C. officials have learned the hard way: that Mr. Wilmot is perhaps the foremost expert on the property at New Jersey Avenue and H Street Northwest.
“That’s who you need to talk to,” he said.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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