Walmart brainstorm

Setting aside the economic arguments against the big box retailer for one day let’s have a brainstorm on how the new Walmart could fit within the urban context of the neighborhood.

Google Street View image of 801 New Jersey Ave NW

I’ll kick start the list, leave your suggestions in the comments.

  • Parking should be underground
  • Add residential density atop the store.
  • Widen the sidewalks on NJ Ave. Keep the mature trees.
  • Put a prominent entrance to the Walmart at the corner of NJ and H.  Perhaps have additional entrances as well.
  • Place loading and parking entrance on I Street rather than New Jersey Ave or H Street.
  • Don’t overbuild the parking. DCUSA has a whole second level of subsidized parking that’s rarely used. We need to learn from that.
  • Avoid long blank walls at the street level to the extent possible. Perhaps with supplemental retail.
  • Restore First Street to the street grid. It is currently truncated by this two block wide parking lot.

What else?

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  1. 1

    John Thompson says

    I think these are excellent starting points for any big retail coming to this block. Well done Paul (esp. the part about keeping mature trees!!!!)

    I would like to suggest compiling all the suggestions you receive so we can all approach the developer.

    Is it possible to make this a brainstorm as to how the development of retail on this site will kickstart the neighborhood vs. Walmart kickstarting a neighborhood sounds too much like an oxymoron. I base this on the evidence from the number of businesses surveyed in the Loyola University study (conducted over 2 years), where:

    “306 enterprises were tracked, and the research team found that 82 of them went out of business during the study period.”

    -taken from “Study on Chicago’s Wal-Mart Reveals Company’s Lack of Impact on Retail Activity and Employment Opportunities in Community
    Chicago Universities Loyola and UIC Team Up to Complete Informative Study”

    For an electronic version of the survey report, please visit

  2. 2


    Oooh i like this. Add some small supplemental retail. Restore 1st but perhaps pedestrian only? Emphasize the building’s relationship to the street. Mixed income housing. Ist ever all organic walmart (ok in my dreams:)…balconies on the residential with fabulous Capitol views. Leed rated construction. Decent innovative design.

  3. 3

    Ken says

    I think you’ll be disappointed about 1st street. That parcel isn’t big enough for Walmart if the street is restored. But with both parcels in play they have space for supplemental retail and we should insist on it. It does not need to be much. Just enough to prevent the blank walls. Maybe a bank and a couple of other small retail bays.

  4. 4

    CT says

    Great list – completely agree especially on the supplemental retail and mixed use, urban component. This is too close to the core of the city to only use the site for a big box store with nothing on top. Should be a small footprint (connecting I street back to the grid) with multiple floors to accomplish the needed square footage and to keep the ground scale pedestrian friendly and urban. Tentatively excited about this – could be a great development if done right. Just hope they bring in people from outside to advise them -they know how to build a suburban, large footprint suburban model but not sure they’re up to this task. If they pull off something innovative and actually urban this would be worth as much in public relations as in retail sales and offer a lot of potential for future growth/new business model.

  5. 5

    Tom says

    @Ken – While I agree the developer probably intends to span this project over both blocks there is an alternative. It would be possible to fit the Walmart on the NJ Ave parcel if they built the store to be two levels. Put the groceries on the first level and clothing, electronics and other goods on the second level.

  6. 6

    Bloomie Res says

    All – I have a good source that has confirmed most of that list is accurate. It will be a mixed-use with residential on top, parking only as needed (much less than DCUSA), other first floor retail (WM may not even be on the groudn floor), first street will be restored, maybe only as pedestrian. It will hopefully be a national example of how to do an urban Wal-Mart well.

  7. 7

    durhonka says

    Ugh, I wrote out my thoughts earlier and then the system didn’t take them. I’ll try to reproduce:

    – We need to remember that every retail chain monitors WMT’s every move – esp. its decisions regarding where to build new stores. WMT is far and away the largest and most sophisticated retailer in history, so I would bet that businessmen all over the region (if not all over the country) have been discussing yesterday’s WaPo article, taking another look at DC (a classic “underserved market” if there ever were one), and trying to figure out what WMT sees in our neighborhood. WMT knows how to turn a profit, and other businesses will be looking to see if they can follow WMT’s lead and make a profit in our neighborhood as well.

    – I think we need also to remember that this is experimental for WMT, an urban concept store. They’re trying something new – they see this as the future of their company. I think that gives us leverage to get them to think outside the box. (Get it? Think outside “the box”???)

    – I ascribe to the Jane Jacobs school of urban planning (her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities rocks my world). We want lots of density. No dead space. Storefronts and windows and eyes overlooking sidewalks. Keep parks and grass to a minimum, and keep them surrounded by storefronts and busy sidewalks. We want to avoid any empty public spaces (such as the parking lots and dark, vacant sidewalks and empty fields presently in that area); public spaces should be warm, vibrant, busy, and diverse. Pretty much everything FourthandEye suggested sounds great to me.

    – I love the idea of restoring First Street. What about the possibility of making First St. a “tunnel” through the development, similar to the way M Street passes through the convention center? Both sides of the tunnel could be glass, such that you could pass by and see into the store or view non-WM store fronts on both sides. (Perhaps escalators inside the store could take you over the tunnel?) You’d get a very nice urban feel from shopping inside the store and seeing cars and/or pedestrians passing by through the First St tunnel.

    – Wal-Mart is probably already looking for complimentary businesses for the periphery of the development. It will probably view itself as an “anchor” store for a development that includes a number of other businesses. They always want businesses that are going to increase the number of people who come into the neighborhood. For instance, they used to always try to put video rental stores near their stores in the South, but video rental is pretty much a dying industry now. There are lots of good options – eateries, coffee shops, Dunkin Donuts, hair and nail salons, a gym (Results!!!). WMT may even welcome specialty stores that overlap slightly with its own merchandise: Specialty clothing, electronics, food, health food, etc.

    – Georgetown law is a quick walk from this development. Students can make an area full and vibrant. We should make sure the developers are considering this – even aside from the Wal-Mart, a gym and some restaurants could draw the students. They should also make sure there is a clear walk-able sidewalk path (i.e. well lit and safe) between the G-Town dorms and the proposed development.

    – My main concern is traffic. We should push for transparency regarding how much dialogue is going on between the developer and Metro. On weekends this store could potentially bring tens of thousands of people into the neighborhood. We want to make sure most of them are arriving by foot or by Metro—not driving. Traffic studies should probably be conducted, and bus routes looked at. Perhaps the city could pressure WMT into paying for road/traffic light/sidewalk upgrades.

    – Has anybody ever considered a pedestrian bridge over NY Avenue – perhaps somewhere close to the NJ Ave/NY Ave intersection? I know pedestrian bridges can be unsightly and very dangerous at night, but I think it would nevertheless be an interesting idea. Crossing NY Ave can be a harrowing experience.

    Overall, I’m super excited about the proposed development. Would be awesome to see these blocks of urban blight come back to life.

  8. 8


    Georgetown Law does not have dorms to my knowledge + they have an incredible gym. The bridge idea has pitfalls – the convention center is cavelike at M street, not so bad at L. Techworld was a dismal failure, hopefully the Office of Planning will come thru in making that 8th st space useful. We might want to consider looking at the concept for the O St Market (and something similar at the Dreyfus 395 project). O St market is to restore 8th st (for pedestrians only i think) and will be lined with small retail.

  9. 9

    durhonka says

    Georgetown does have a dorm, it’s like 10 stories tall – full of 1L’s. I have a friend that goes there. 546 2nd St. NW

  10. 10

    FourthandEye says

    I would likely be against formatting this block of First Street as a tunnel. The M Street tunnel under the Convention Center is a horrid cave like Si said. With the Conv Center it would have been nearly impossible for the design of a 2.3 million square feet facility and avoid either cutting the block off or resorting to a tunnel. A Walmart of 80-120K SF is easily capable of fitting on the eastern portion of the parcel therefore I don’t see how the tunnel is justified. MAYBE a skybridge that 100ft wide but not a tunnel that is the length of the whole block. Even a skybridge is a little cringe worthy…

  11. 12

    durhonka says

    Another thing that occured to me re WMT. Out in suburbs and rural areas, you do not want a WMT opening right by your house. If you live in a subdivision or gated community, your whole goal is to avoid traffic, noise, light, and everything else that comes with a WMT. And once the WMT goes up, other stores go up nearby. This is why suburban and exurban homeowners often rebel againt bigbox developments.

    But the whole goal of growth in urban areas is different; the calculus just is not the same. Here, we want the incredible amount of foot traffic a general merchandiser would bring; we want the diversity; we want the sidewalks filled with people on their way to and from the WMT.

    The only other company that would bring the same amount of foot traffic to our neighborhood and our businesses would be Target.

    Also, maybe someone mentioned this somewhere and I missed it, but have they said anything about whether or not this would be a 24-hour store? There could be pro’s and cons to that. One pro would be that it would be easier for low-income people who work the night shift cleaning buildings downtown to get their weekly shopping done.

  12. 14

    4th & L NW says

    Thanks for getting this list going. A group of several stores could be great for the neighborhood. If the intersection around Mass Ave/H St/ NJ Ave is changed, then development at 801 NJ Ave NW could be good for the area. I still question, however, how accessible that spot is to those coming from the metro. If a big box store goes in, I would prefer a Target over a Walmart because I routinely have found the quality of goods at Walmart to be poor, while Target’s products are both high quality and a good value. In addition, Target is often followed by other quality, affordable stores such as Kohl’s.

  13. 15

    FourthandEye says

    From today’s Washingtonpost:

    To make its stores fit on each of the varying properties, the company has agreed to consider an array of layouts, designs and parking arrangements, a reflection of the chain’s new willingness to adapt its model to enter urban markets.

    None of the planned stores better exhibits Wal-Mart’s new approach than 801 New Jersey Ave. NW, where the company plans a store of between 75,000 and 80,000 square feet on the ground floor of a five-story mixed-use building featuring 315 apartments, underground parking and space for smaller retailers to locate next door. The property, currently a parking lot, is owned by the city and leased to a joint venture between developer JBG and the Bennett Group, a firm owned LuAnn L. Bennett, wife of Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.).