Among the revelations in the packet of emails reporter Miya Shay recently received in response to a 3-month-old public-records request: City officials learned from Ainbinder Company as early as June 11th that the big-box store indicated on plans for the company’s Washington Heights shopping center in the West End would be a Walmart. Swamplot readers first heard reports of the company’s plans on July 1st. But as late as July 13th, the city development director’s deputy apparently felt it necessary to ward his boss off plans to keep the details or intentions behind the city’s infrastructure-improvement agreement with Ainbinder a secret: Tim Douglass writes development director Andy Icken, “Frankly, it’s a little too late to try and ‘sneak’ this through council. The cat is out of the bag.”
As early as March 5th, an official from the city’s public works department told engineers working for Ainbinder that the proposed development at Koehler and Yale would not be required to provide any additional stormwater drainage or any detention ponds — because the previous development on the site (scraped away a few years ago) had had even more concrete on the ground than what Ainbinder was proposing. Nevertheless, a website advertising the development promises the developers will provide drainage improvements “as required by the city.” Similar language is included in the 380 agreement passed by city council in September. That agreement includes a list of proposed drainage improvements and on-site rainwater detention estimated to cost more than $900,000, but it appears the developer won’t be required to complete any of them. Under the terms of the agreement, costs for any of the items that the developer does construct would be reimbursed by city tax receipts.
By late July, Walmart had what Douglass terms its “counter offensive” against neighborhood opposition in full gear. After developing a website, the company commissioned a phone survey with the purpose of identifying project supporters; Walmart also approached people on its “very strong” list of supporters in the Heights to send letters to city council members. It appears the company also employed the services of local strategic communications firm One World Strategy Group. The contact info of that company’s Jeri Brooks (featured in this entertaining video medley of One World training concerns) appears at the bottom of an email meant to convince council member Ed Gonzalez — who ultimately voted against the city agreement — that the developers had been working closely with city officials for some time.