The vote itself zipped by so fast last night that it was possible to miss the precise moment when the Baltimore City Council approved 25th St. Station, the mixed use development with the Lowe’s home improvement store and the Wal-Mart that generated a year of heartburn and hope in north Baltimore, where it is to be built.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young informed the audience that Councilman Carl Stokes would abstain, and then it was over, with everyone else presumably having voted “yes.”
(Stokes later explained his abstention saying: “there were some things we could have continued to work on, like the commitment to local hiring, and traffic.”)
The only drama was provided by Councilwoman Belinda K. Conaway, in whose district the 11-acre project is to be built. Pointing to fat brown envelopes on her desk filled with what she said were petitions and letters supporting the project, Conaway excoriated her critics.
“There was no conspiracy on the part of district representatives or the rest of the council,” said Conaway, decrying the “robo-calls and email-chains” and “anonymous phone calls” with “accusations of payoffs and conspiracies” that “spread lies and slander about another person’s character.”
Conaway reiterated her position that the current occupant of the property, Anderson Automotive, was going to move to the county anyway and that a development “would bring in much more tax revenue than a blighted (vacant) property.”
“It will bring more traffic,” she said, “but it will also bring more jobs and more revenue.”
Thanks for being so ‘easy’
Outside City Hall, demonstrators from Baltimore CAN, a group affiliated with Progressive Maryland, staged a rally mocking city officials for failing to have extracted wage and local hiring guarantees from the developer.
“They were going to come here anyway, it’s not like they would have dropped the project,” said Lisa Kramer, coordinator of Baltimore CAN. She noted that unions and elected officials have put up more of a fight against Wal-Mart in other cities where the mega-retailer has come in, like Chicago.
Several picketers were dressed in jackets covered with play money and assumed the identity of the relatives of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
“My message is to thank Baltimore for being the easiest city to come in to!” said “Sam Jr.” (aka Steve Dooley, of Communities United.)
Meanwhile, showing their support for the project, a group of people held up signs saying “25th street station equals jobs,” and “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” Most said they were from Remington. Ty Romey, whose sign said “700 jobs” said he was from Pocomoke City and worked in construction, but “I would come here for these jobs.”
Opponents said they would shift their focus to continuing efforts toward winning passage of “living wage” legislation in Baltimore, a campaign — spearheaded on the council by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke — that has so far been unsuccessful. Others in the audience were focused on that topic, as well.
“I’m here to see that the living wage thing stays not-living,” lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano quipped, after the meeting. (He represents Safeway, among other clients he said oppose the concept.)
While the Baltimore controversy over the coming of an urban Wal-Mart-based development appears to be over (after expected final design approval, construction is expected to begin in the spring), down the road in D.C. a similar battle may just be starting up.
Wal-Mart recently announced that it wants to open four stores there, on sites that include “a former car dealership, a parking lot leased by a congressman’s wife, a onetime public housing complex in the midst of redevelopment and a strip of auto repair shops,” according to The Washington Post.
Rick Walker, who is developing 25th St. Station is also the developer on one of those DC Wal-Mart projects.
From the Post story:
“Where there are now auto repair shops on New York Avenue NE, developers Rick Walker and Miroslav Vlcko, who built the shopping center on Rhode Island Avenue NE that brought Washington its first Home Depot, are planning a 120,000-square-foot Wal-Mart that would sit atop another anchor as part of a major new retail center containing more than 350,000 square feet of shops and a two-story parking garage.”
Here’s a post from The Brew about that Rick Walker Rhode Island Ave. big-box development mentioned above.
Here is video by Bill Hughes showing the scene outside Baltimore City Hall before the vote.