- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2016

Former D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray blamed his successor, Mayor Muriel Bowser, for letting Wal-Mart slip out of a deal to build two stores in some of the District’s poorest neighborhoods by not keeping in constant contact with the retail giant.

Wal-Mart announced Friday that it will not move forward in building two stores in Ward 7, eliminating the creation of hundreds of jobs for residents and millions in tax revenue for the city.

The retail chain’s decision to pull out of the Capitol Gateway Marketplace in Northeast and Skyland Town Center in Southeast came as part of a larger plan to close 269 stores around the world.

“There are two deputy mayors for economic development — one solely focused on east of the [Anacostia] river. Where was that person?” Mr. Gray told The Washington Times on Saturday. “They were asleep at the switch. There should have been ongoing interaction with them as I did, frankly.”

Mr. Gray was referring to Courtney R. Snowden, D.C. deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity. Mr. Snowden was appointed by Ms. Bowser in April and tasked with facilitating “investment and job creation in underserved … communities,” according to the website for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity.

Mayoral spokesman Michael Czin said Ms. Bowser did everything she could to keep the deal in place.

“We have been in regular contact with Wal-Mart and the developers of both sites for the last year,” he said.

Mr. Czin shot back, saying Ms. Bowser had to take care of a major legal issue that Mr. Gray’s administration had failed to resolve. In October, Ms. Bowser negotiated a deal end a two-decades-old covenant held by Safeway at the Skyland Town Center that limited competition around the grocery store.

Many city officials see the Wal-Mart’s move as reneging on a deal put into place when Mr. Gray was mayor. In 2013, he made a handshake deal to allow Wal-Mart to build five stores in the city as long it built two of those stores east of the Anacostia River.

Wal-Mart cited poor performance at its other three stores in the city as the reason for not going ahead with the two stores planned for Ward 7. A statement from the retailer said the closures took into account several factors, including “financial performance as well as strategic alignment with long-term plans.”

Mr. Gray said those stores would have served a community desperately in need of the most basic services.

“There’s a paucity of amenities in those neighborhoods that people should have a right to, especially in the nation’s capital,” he said.

Moving forward, Mr. Gray hopes Ms. Bowser fights Wal-Mart to show that the city can’t be pushed around.

“The mayor should get on a plane and go to Arkansas to expose this heinous act,” he said. “That’s what I would do as mayor. I can’t believe they would have been as disrespectful if I’d been in office.”

Mr. Gray, whom Ms. Bowser defeated in the 2014 Democratic mayoral primary, has hinted at a political comeback since federal prosecutors recently ended a corruption investigation of his administration.

On Friday, Ms. Bowser said she was “blood mad” about Wal-Mart’s decision, and D.C. Council member Vincent Orange said the city should sue Wal-Mart for breaking a lease at Skyland.

Mr. Czin said all options are on the table as Ms. Bowser explores legal options.

Council member Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, said failing to move forward on the two stores will hurt her ward and the city.

The two stores would have served as the retail anchors at Capitol Gateway Marketplace and Skyland Town Center. The Skyland project alone would have brought 300 construction and 300 permanent jobs, with nearly $65 million in sales and property taxes to the city, according to a Jan. 15 statement by Ms. Alexander.

“I am angry, and I take this personally as I advocated to bring them to Ward 7,” she said. “The District had a deal with Wal-Mart to bring in five stores with two coming to Ward 7. They signed leases, and now they have broken their deal.”

She also said Wal-Mart’s decision “has racial and social-economic discrimination implications.”

Ms. Alexander said she met with Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning economic and development; council member Jack Evans, Ward 1 Democrat; and other city officials on Friday to discuss a plan of action, but she didn’t go into details on the District’s options.

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