Wegmans gets picky planning Walter Reed store

D.C. residents who love Wegmans but loathe driving to the suburbs may have seen reports that the grocer — typically known for box-like stores with surface parking lots — has unveiled a new “urban” format.

Like Safeway, Whole Foods and Wal-Mart, Wegmans decided being in cities was important enough that it would modify its template and allow a store to be integrated into a mixed-use development, like the one envisioned for the former Walter Reed Army hospital in the District.

But a new design does not necessarily assure a new store.

Though Wegmans has repeatedly said it would like to open its first D.C. store at Walter Reed, the grocer told ANC 4A commissioners and District officials in a letter last July that it would effectively only come to Walter Reed if its preferred development team, Roadside Development, is selected for the project.

“Wegmans is an exclusive member of the Roadside Development team,” wrote Ralph Uttaro, senior vice president at the Rochester, N.Y. chain. He said the grocer “specifically partnered with Roadside” on the Walter Reed proposal because of the pair’s experience developing another successful project, in Woodbridge. Roadside and Wegmans are also negotiating to open an urban format store in Tysons Corner.

After Roadside and two other competing teams presented to the community in July, Uttaro wrote that he was “surprised to hear that other developer(s) may have included the Wegmans logo in their presentation materials or claimed that Wegmans has been having discussions with them regarding their plans.”

Those mentions, Uttaro wrote, were not authorized by the company. The full letter is here.

Wegmans officials have also made it clear to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) that it was not happy at the prospect of having to pay a “living wage” set by legislation the D.C. Council approved.

Bowser said Wegman’s unease factored heavily into her voting against the legislation and Gray said its position will factor into his decision-making as he decides whether to veto the bill this month or next.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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