- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006


The District’s reception at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ convention this year was far different from the one the first delegation of D.C. developers received.

In 1999, a small contingent showed up to represent the District at the convention, an annual attempt for retailers, real estate developers and city officials to make deals. All of the big players have a presence there, from Simon Property Group, the largest retail owner and developer in the country, to Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

The grass-roots delegation, wearing buttons that read, “Ask me about D.C.,” distributed brochures about the District to any retailer that would accept one and overlook the city’s reputation for crime and lack of retail opportunity.

This year, the District’s delegation was in a crowded booth and participated in about 50 meetings with retailers. The city they represent is now home to high-profile downtown retailers such as H&M;, Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Whole Foods.

The District last week most aggressively was going after grocery, clothing and home-furnishing stores, said Keith Sellars, director of retail development at the Washington, DC Economic Partnership.

“This is the year of the grocery store,” Mr. Sellars said before the convention. “We have nine meetings with grocery stores.”

He added that the District turned down Save-A-Lot, fast-food chains and some other retailers.

Stanley Jackson, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the District has overcome its negative perception.

“Four or five years ago, we were begging people to locate in D.C.,” Mr. Jackson said during the convention. “There are fertile opportunities for good retail [now].”

Some in the D.C. delegation attribute the retail growth to Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ attendance at the conference each year, convincing retailers that the District was serious about expanding its retail base.

“Mayor Williams deserves a lot of credit. He was here eight years ago and brought us here from nowhere,” D.C. Council member Jack Evans said at the convention last week. “Retailers notice the buying power in D.C. now.”

“People wonder why we go on these trips,” he said. “Every retailer in the world is here; if you’re not here, you miss out.”

Mr. Williams told guests at a D.C. reception that he was sad to be attending his last ICSC convention as mayor and that economic development is one of his favorite parts of the job.

“I think our incredible success over the last eight years stems from our determination to make the District a welcoming place to do business,” Mr. Williams said after the conference. “The competition today is so stiff that if we’re not ready and able to work with developers, they will have 10 other locations begging for them to come.”

Other local jurisdictions at the conference included the state of Maryland, Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore city, Baltimore County and the city of Alexandria. Each had its own intent: Prince George’s attended to draw high-end retailers, while Anne Arundel County went with hopes of bringing back restaurant deals.

Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or [email protected]

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