Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rising Food Prices & Supermarket Policy

As CNN is reporting this morning food prices are rising all over the world: "If you're seeing your grocery bill go up, you're not alone. From subsistence farmers eating rice in Ecuador to gourmets feasting on escargot in France, consumers worldwide face rising food prices in what analysts call a perfect storm of conditions. Freak weather is a factor. But so are dramatic changes in the global economy, including higher oil prices, lower food reserves and growing consumer demand in China and India."

We've already seen this in the city as our friends at Jetro have told us that the price of flour has tripled and the cost of a bagel-now over a dollar-and a a slice of pizza-heading for $4-will soon go through the roof. This inflationary trend has some dire implications for the city's goal of giving low income New Yorkers access to healthier food.

The reality is that healthier food products such as fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive, and this factor is one of the major reasons why low income folks aren't consuming more of these products. When we couple this trend with rising real estate values and subsequent higher rents, then a real crisis is right on the horizon.

We need to make supermarket retention and development economical, and the effort to do this is complicated by the inflationary trend in food prices. This means that a conscious effort needs to be made to craft a supermarket policy that not only gives landlords incentives to rent to food stores at reasonable prices, but also sets up some feasible barriers to prevent the eviction of vital food outlets in our city's neighborhoods.

On the development side, city subsidies need to be tied-in with the provision of affordable supermarket space; and specific financial incentives need to be added to foster new supermarket development. A development as lucrative as the Gateway Mall on the site of the Bronx Terminal Market (in the poorest neighborhood of the city) should not go forward without an affordable modern supermarket-and there's still time to remedy its exclusion by the Related Companies.

Just as distressing is the way in which Vornado, one of the city's wealthiest real estate holders, is trying to evict a large local Key Food supermarket in the South Bronx. Now, as the NY Times tells us this morning, our friends at Vornado are supposedly in the running to do the lucrative development over at Hudson Yards. Here's the paper's take on the company's joint bid with the Durst Organization: "In negotiations over the past week, the Durst-Roth team has argued that unlike Tishman Speyer, it has an anchor tenant — Cond√© Nast Publications — for its office space and a greater likelihood of approval by the local community board and the city’s Planning Commission, which must review the proposed zoning for the yard on the west side of 11th Avenue."

Well, just hold on for one New York minute. If Doug Durst and Steve Roth are making their last minute push on the basis of being able to better navigate ULURP than we think every one should take one giant step back. If Steve Roth's Vornado company doesn't begin a reasonable negotiation with the Key Food in its Bruckner Boulevard shopping center, all bets will be off.

Starting tomorrow, we are expected joined by Cablevision's Bronx 12 News out in front of the Key Food to begin what will become a city wide protest against the loss of neighborhood supermarkets. We plan to make Vornado the poster child for a landlord insensitivity that should not be rewarded by the city granting the company profitable public opportunities. If Roth doesn't come to his senses Doug Durst will be ruing the day he joined forces with the Vornado folks. Stay tuned here, this is going to be big,