“People who have lived in this area all their lives can’t afford it, and they’ll be forced out,” Mills said.
Mills is out of work for health reasons, but she also has concerns about the 300 promised Wal-Mart jobs and other work connected to the Skyland project.
“People who live in this community — I’m specifically talking about black people; I don’t know if you want to call it reverse discrimination, or what — but I think they should get the first dibs on jobs.”
Constance Ford-Jasper lives two blocks down from Gray on a well-manicured stretch of Branch Avenue covered by a lush tree canopy. The retired teacher said she’s tired of schlepping to the suburbs whenever she wants to buy something a little special.
“We have to travel to Virginia and Maryland for a nice place to do some decent shopping,” Ford-Jasper said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
She’d love to see the Skyland development go up. Locals need the jobs, not to mention better restaurants. But if Wal-Mart won’t budge on a higher minimum wage, Ford-Jasper said, “Let them walk. . . . We don’t need them.”
Gary D. Rappaport, Skyland’s lead developer, said people don’t understand how such projects are financed. “That’s someone that’s not educated on the big picture,” Rappaport said.
Over the dozen years that the McLean-based developer has been involved in the project, Rappaport has shopped Skyland to many potential tenants.
“This is the only major retailer that has stepped up to be the anchor tenant,” Rappaport said. “You cannot build a Skyland Town Center without the creditworthiness of a tenant like Wal-Mart. . . . We’re talking about an unknown number of years that the site will be no different from what you see today.”
Wal-Mart agreed to go to Skyland after getting pushed hard by Gray. The company said in a statement last week that the bill requiring the higher minimum wage “is arbitrary and discriminatory and . . . discourages investment in Washington.”
Last week, there was still a little life at the sagging Skyland center.
The dryers in the laundromat with a broken red “u” in its sign were still spinning, and the CVS was still dispensing medicine. Stevie Wonder blared at the makeshift barbecue stand beside a flooded part of the parking lot. Inside a shabby emporium in an old movie theater, employees of Discount Mart were still measuring curtains and displaying TVs and bug spray.
“I’ve been here for 23 years. You know I don’t want to go anywhere,” said Laura McFadden, a clerk. “At 74, you know you can’t get another job, right?”
The store’s owner lost his legal fight to prevent the city from taking and developing his property, and now he’s looking for a new space in Maryland. McFadden said she understands why the community wants an upgrade, but she has become accustomed to life in the neighborhood as it is.
“The old get older, and the young are still coming in, with their children. It’s the same thing. It’s a circle,” she said. “This is the neighborhood Wal-Mart, just not as fancy. . . . It’s Southeast Wal-Mart.”