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Bowser Calls For Eminent Domain To Bring 55K SF Grocery Store To Ward 7

City officials and leaders from Lidl break ground at the grocer's new location in Skyland Town Center.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is calling on the D.C. Council to support the use of eminent domain in a bid to reanimate stalled plans for a new Ward 7 grocery store.

The District has a preliminary agreement with a major grocer to open a 55K SF location at Capitol Gateway Marketplace, the long-planned development where Walmart backed out of a deal in 2016, Bowser's office said in a release Thursday. 

Bowser said using eminent domain is necessary to move this deal forward, otherwise the site at the intersection of East Capitol Street NE and 58th Street NE could remain empty until 2037.  

"We will restart this long-stalled project and take the steps necessary to deliver a full-service grocer and other retail amenities to the residents of Ward 7," Bowser said in a joint press release with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. "Our residents and families East of the River deserve an array of fresh and healthy food options and we will not stop until that goal is fulfilled."

The property is owned by the D.C. Housing Authority, a quasi-independent government agency, and it is ground-leased to CG Marketplace LLC, a joint venture of DCHA and A&R Development, the Washington Business Journal reported. It has been planned for a mixed-use project with a grocery store anchor since 2002, but no development has moved forward and the site has remained vacant.

Bowser's efforts to bring more grocers and food access to Wards 7 and 8 have begun to bear fruit recently, as the mayor celebrated the groundbreaking for the city's first Lidl Food Market in Skyland earlier this month. The new grocery store will be the first in the ward in over a decade.

Previously, Walmart had pledged to occupy the grocery spaces in Skyland and at Capitol Gateway, but backed out of both in 2016, leaving Bowser and other city officials "blood mad."

That left Skyland Town Center, a project into which the city had pumped tens of millions of dollars over two mayoral administrations, without an anchor tenant for years before Lidl agreed to open a store in the W.C. Smith and Rappaport-led project in 2019.

But there is still a long way to go to make up for the gap left not just by Walmart, but decades of underinvestment. Today, just three of the city's 79 full-service grocery stores lie east of the Anacostia River, the mayor's press release said. 

Approximately 82% of the city's food deserts — areas where residents have low rates of car access, a high poverty rate and are located more than half a mile from a grocery store or supermarket — occur in Wards 7 and 8, and that trend has persisted for decades, according to research by the D.C. Policy Center.

Meanwhile, construction on the Capitol Gateway project has stalled since Walmart backed out, indefinitely delaying plans to bring 312 residential units, 18K SF of retail and a sit-down restaurant to the site.

To bring the project forward, DMPED reached a tentative agreement with Walmart wherein the national chain would pay the city $6.685M to take on its sublease. 

A spokesperson for DMPED declined to name the new grocer that has reached a preliminary agreement to open at the project. Ward 7 Council Member Vincent Gray submitted legislation in support of the mayor's plan.

"On Tuesday, our partners on the Council will have the opportunity to work with us to deliver a new supermarket in Ward 7 and fulfill a promise to our residents that was made at the turn of the century," Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said in the release. "Food justice is an emergency, and together we need to take these immediate, bold actions to deliver it."