It's easy to fault Walmart for disrupting "mainstreet" America by pricing out small retailers, but thing get a bit more complicated when the corporate giant engages in what looks like urban renewal. Coming soon to D.C.'s Fort Totten neighborhood are 345 apartments stacked atop a downsized Walmart—120,000 square feet compared to the 180,000 square feet of an average supercenter, so downsized by Walmart standards—scaled down in an effort to enter cities and bolster flagging sales. The world's largest retailer opened two stores in the District last year, after winning a regulatory game of chicken with the D.C. city council and the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would've forced Walmart to pay its District workers a living wage. With three more Walmarts planned for the city, we could be getting a glimpse at Walmart's latest strategy for cracking urban markets.
Walmart's plan for D.C.'s 77H development was already anchored by a retail store, but Fort Totten Square takes things a up a notch, appearing in all respects like a mid-to-high-end new-built apartment complex, save for its retail-devoted first floor. On top of the Walmart will be four stories of apartments clad in dark composite panels, large panes of glass, and the occasional stretch of brick, all wrapped around two courtyards, one of which will have a swimming pool in the center. The northeast corner of the complex will have smaller stores and restaurants, all just a short walk away from the Fort Totten Metro station.
The project was designed by Hickok Cole, the D.C.-based firm behind NPR's new headquarters, which admits to Architectural Record that they entered the project with "great trepidation," not only for aligning residential needs with those of a large retailer, but with designing a facade for the store that was neighborhood appropriate. Luckily, Hickock adds, Walmart was "sensitive about our suggestion that we have an appropriate scale for that storefront," and renderings picture the signage as appropriately scaled back along with the square footage.
Fort Totten Square is expected to be done in the first quarter of 2015, with apartments that are market-rate but "competitively priced relative to other D.C. submarkets," according to developer JBG Companies. Meanwhile, in New York City, Walmart recently leased a space in southeast Queens deemed a "potentially viable site for business," and a Walmart heiress is rumored to have bought a $70M penthouse, presumably for making even more urban inroads.