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Seawall emerges as likely developer of oft-delayed Wal-Mart on 25th Street

Developer Rick Walker, who proposed the project back in 2010, is now officially out.

Above: The proposed site of Wal-Mart is now a parking lot for school buses.

The long-running saga of the Wal-Mart 25th Street Station project has taken a fresh turn as R. Richard “Rick” Walker officially announced that he is no longer the project’s developer.

The $65 million “big-box” project in Remington was proposed more than four years ago by Walker, a brash newcomer to the city’s development community, and was ratified by the City Council in late 2010. Walker said he hoped to have construction underway in 2011.

Instead, the project has moved in fits and starts, the result of both lawsuits by residents and business owners objecting to the process used by the city to approve the project as well as commercial setbacks, including the withdrawal of a Lowe’s Home Improvement Store at the site.

Meanwhile, Bruce Mortimer of Anderson Automotive Group, whose family owns the site, has pushed Walker to buy the 11-acre property.

Last year, the auto dealer sued Walker for breach of contract, and Walker filed a motion saying that he and his company, WV Urban Developments, had already spent $6.3 million on the project. Mortimer said Walker had failed to make promised payments, while Walker contended that Mortimer was seeking to sell the property to another developer.

A settlement was reached setting a new date for the sale of the property, but that deadline has since come and gone.

Now Walker has thrown in the towel.

“I regret to advise you that, as of late last week, WV Urban Developments is no longer pursuing its 25th Street Station project,” his project manager, Caroline Paff, wrote to community members yesterday.

Seawall Development, a partnership of Donald Manekin, Thibault Manekin and Evan H. Morville, has re-emerged as the leading candidate to take over the development. (Calls by The Brew to Seawall today have not been returned.)

Seawall has developed Miller’s Court and other properties in Remington, including the new site of the Single Carrot Theatre, just north of the Wal-Mart project on Howard and 26th streets.

Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the district, said Wal-Mart confirmed yesterday that it still plans to build the store. As matters now stand, Stokes told The Brew this afternoon, “Seawall is going to seek out other retailers and put together a plan that the community can enthusiastically support.”

Stokes Lauds “Fresh” Start

He said the Wal-Mart store – whose design was criticized as too suburban and car-oriented by some members of the community – will proceed. “I don’t think this change [of developers] will stop or significantly slow down the project,” Stokes said hopefully.

On behalf of Walker, who was attending the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, Paff blamed the citizen lawsuits for the project’s failure.

“Numerous appeals and filings by opponents,” she said, “delayed the project for years and . . . contributed to an environment sufficiently uncertain that the relevant parties are unable to reach the agreements necessary for WV to continue.”

A change of developers was greeted today as a positive step by Megan Hamilton, founder of the Historic Fawcett Community Association.

“I think at this point Seawall would be great to take over and be really creative, entrepreneurial and community sensitive with it,” she said.

“You could do big box up there but not build it curb to curb and not have it be exclusively chain retail. You could do some local retailers for sure. You could do a nice green wildlife zone, maybe a small farm to go with a farm-to-table restaurant,” Hamilton told The Brew.

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