Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Foulger-Pratt faces the public, emerges relatively unscathed

To say that the public meeting that was held last night at Emory United Methodist Church's Fellowship Hall was intense would be quite an understatement. That room was on fire.

Most of the 4B commissioners were present; three representatives of Foulger-Pratt, the development company that owns the Curtis Chevrolet site, were present; as were 100+ members of the community, from Brightwood and beyond. Wal-Mart did not send representatives. Foulger-Pratt presented the initial rendering of the planned development: a single-use, single-story structure with one retail tenant. Any possibility of the development being mixed-use with residential, or two-level with multiple retail tenants, was not addressed.

As expected, community members passionately and eloquently voiced their displeasure at the lack of information flow so far from Foulger-Pratt and Wal-Mart. F-P did its best to address those concerns, but ultimately those present came to understand that the community would have very little real input on this privately-funded project.

"Is this a done deal?" That was the question that was repeated by several community members, and after an hour and a half of hemming and hawing an answer was given: no, it's not a done deal (because no lease has been signed). But there is also no "plan b"...if the deal doesn't go through, we could be living with a vacant lot for another half decade (unless those of us who are believers start praying for a miracle bidding war, and those prayers are answered).

Yes, the proposed tenant will bring jobs. "Poverty-level jobs!", asserted one attendee. CM Bowser replied that with so many of her constituents currently out of work, there's little room to argue. "We're all concerned about fair wages, but what about no wages? That's what many residents of DC are facing right now."

One of the central discussions during the Q&A session was the current state of Upper Georgia Avenue. Randall Clarke, past economic development chair of the Brightwood Community Association, made the point that although it's true that Wal-Mart has had negative impacts on neighborhood retail in rural and suburban communities, it's very difficult to gauge how it would impact Brightwood because a) we don't have much of a "main street" to begin with and b) urban format stores are new ventures for Wal-Mart, and we have few other Wal-Mart-ed urban neighborhoods to study and compare ourselves to. Best-case scenario is that a "main street" will develop around the Wal-Mart; worst case is that any smaller businesses will be unsustainable with a Wal-Mart so close by. What about beyond Georgia Avenue; would Wal-Mart's presence cause Kennedy Street to be blighted for another 20 years, or will we see the planned Kennedy Street revitalization project grow? Interesting times ahead, Brightwood.

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