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WC Smith, Rappaport Reveal New Details For Last Piece Of Skyland Town Center

Nearly seven years after Walmart abandoned plans to open a location in the Skyland Town Center development in Ward 7, the project's developers have released new details about the final piece of the site — which the retail behemoth left behind.

Project partners WC Smith and Rappaport plan to round out the 18-acre project with 126 for-sale townhomes and a 75-unit senior housing building at Skyland Town Center, WC Smith Chairman and CEO Chris Smith announced at Bisnow’s Future of Wards 7 and 8 event Tuesday.

WC Smith Chairman and CEO Chris Smith, right, shares plans for the final phase of Skyland Town Center, which include 126 townhomes and a 75-unit senior affordable housing community, during a panel with Rappaport Cos.' Thomas Bolen III and Gary Rappaport at Bisnow's Future of Wards 7 and 8 event on Dec. 13.

"When Walmart left, they occupied the square that you see now,” Smith said onstage at THEARC Theater where the event was held. “You can only imagine in the ensuing six, seven years, we have visioned a lot of different buildings on this site. At the end of the day, we heard from the community that they would also like to see homeownership.”

The issue of community buy-in was key to the developers as they have worked to bring development plans on the site to fruition. Smith said the 263-unit The Crest apartment building is 90% leased, and the retail component of Skyland Town Center, spearheaded by Rappaport, is 68% leased.

But that success couldn't come without public support, including from the District government, said Gary Rappaport, founder and CEO of his eponymous firm.

“You can't do projects like Skyland if you don't have the beginning commitment of the public side,” Rappaport said. “Most retailers understand as much; most developers don't.”

The development’s first phase received an $18.75M tax increment financing package from D.C., plus public support to handle infrastructure needs at the site. More recently, D.C.’s Food Access Fund has helped finance plans by restaurants like HalfSmoke and Roots 657 Cafe to open at Skyland Town Center.

Construction on the development’s first phase began 17 years after Rappaport first responded to a request for proposals issued by D.C. for the site at the intersection of Alabama Avenue SE, Good Hope Road and Naylor Road. 

Rappaport and Smith said they went to hundreds of community meetings over the development’s two-decade rise, soliciting feedback on everything from the housing to the retail component, now anchored by Lidl.

The developers also signed a $2.1M community benefits agreement to support neighbors of the site. In addition, Smith and Rappaport spent $700K to develop the Skyland Workforce Center to provide job training for those who showed up looking for work at the construction site.

The center recently placed its thousandth employee in a full-time position. Today, it is administered by nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River, and Rappaport said construction is underway to build out a permanent 3K SF facility for the workforce center in a retail space beneath The Crest at Skyland Town Center.

Smith said he has long believed in the development as a catalyst for growth, and rent prices at The Crest appear to support his belief.

When the developers were forming their plan for the project, he said there had been no market-rate rental housing developed east of the Anacostia River in decades, so he could only use buildings west of the river as comparatives for Skyland. The initial pro forma for the multifamily component penciled out with $2.40 per SF in rent, but today it is leasing at $2.70 per SF, he said.

“I think Skyland Town Center has shown that the community has desired good retail and good housing,” Smith said. “The demand has been there. We just haven't supplied it.”