Wal-Mart threatens to bail on some D.C. stores

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Wal-Mart is threatening to stop development of three of its six planned stores in the District if a bill is signed into law that would raise the minimum wage the big-box retailer would be required to offer employees.

Word that the herald of low prices could nix construction plans came Tuesday, the day before the D.C. Council is set for a final vote on a bill that would require hourly wages of at least $12.50 to be paid at its stores.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who threw his support behind the chain’s development plans after wrangling to include one of the now-jeopardized stores in his home ward, could veto the bill.

“The cancellation of three planned stores will surely set us back,” Mr. Gray said in a statement. “I strongly urge the Council to consider whether this legislation will actually promote strong economic development in the District and expand job opportunities for District residents.”

Three stores are already under construction, but Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said even plans for those stores could be altered if the Large Retailer Accountability Act is enacted. The three stores in jeopardy are the Skyland Town Center and Capitol Gateway stores in Ward 7 and the Ward 5 store at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road in Northeast.

Wal-Mart will not pursue stores at Skyland, Capitol Gateway, and New York Avenue, if the [act] is passed,” Wal-Mart regional general manager Alex Barron wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday afternoon in The Washington Post. “What’s more, passage will also jeopardize the three stores already under construction as we will thoroughly review the financial and legal implications of the bill on those projects.”

The stores under construction are at Georgia and Missouri avenues in Northwest, Fort Totten Square in Northeast and New Jersey Avenue in Northwest.

“I don’t think they’re bluffing,” said D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat.

Mr. Gray and other officials wooed Wal-Mart to the District, excited by the prospect of redevelopment as well as securing jobs for D.C. residents.

Council members who supported the bill argued that the projected 1,800 jobs brought by Wal-Mart would best help residents if the jobs paid a living wage. The requirement for the higher wage would essentially target Wal-Mart, applying only to retailers with stores larger than 75,000 square feet and parent companies grossing at least $1 billion per year.

The requirement “would clearly inject unforeseen costs into the equation that will create an uneven playing field and challenge the fiscal health of our planned D.C. stores,” Mr. Barron wrote.

An initial vote in favor of the bill split the council 8-5, short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a possible veto by Mr. Gray.

Ms. Alexander, who voted against the legislation and personally met with Wal-Mart representatives at her office Tuesday to receive the news, mourned the potential loss of an expected 600 jobs in her ward.

“I didn’t actually think they weren’t going to come, but for them to say they not coming, that’s like my worst nightmare,” she said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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