Monday, March 24, 2008

Sun's Wal-Mart Wailing

In this morning's NY Sun, the paper editorializes about the absence of Wal-Mart from NYC-they lament this absence with a dissertation on a senior citizen field trip to a Wal-Mart in Monroe New York: "A brief item inside the City section of yesterday's New York Times reports on a non-profit group in the Bronx, Highbridge Community Life Center, that, among other services to senior citizens, offers round-trip van rides from the Bronx to a Wal-Mart in Monroe, an hour north of New York City. "The expeditions," the Times reports, "are intended to help older residents cope with the ever-rising prices of groceries and household items."

Now the Sun focuses on what it views as the irony of having a senior citizen group, using tax payer money, visit Wal-Mart while the City Council fights the siting of the store anywhere in NYC: "What the Times article omits is the reason these elderly individuals have to travel for an hour in a van in one direction and an hour back in the other direction to shop at Wal-Mart. That reason is the New York City Council. In thrall to labor unions and other forces that are lobbying against Wal-Mart, the Democrat-dominated City Council has all but banned the nation's largest retailer from New York City. What the report also omits is that Highbridge Community Life Center gets about $2.4 million a year — about 60% of its annual budget — from the New York City and State governments."

What the Sun omits, however, is that what the Highbridge community really lacks is a large affordable supermarket, a policy initiative that is long overdue for a city that is hemorrhaging supermarkets at an alarming rate. We're hopeful that the supermarket task force will get right to work on this since there is still space available at the Gateway Mall a stone's throw from the Highbridge neighborhood.

And come to think of it, we didn't see any lamentations from the Sun when the city gave away the old Bronx Terminal Market to one of Dan Doctoroff's old friends-Steve Ross at Related. That a man who can afford to donate over $90 million to his University of Michigan Alma mater, was deeded city land at less than one dollar a square foot went uncommented on by the Sun.

Now, however, the city has an opportunity to rectify the land give away; it can make 100,000 sq. ft. available for a supermarket space at the Gateway site (at a reasonable price) so that the seniors of Highbridge-and the rest of the Bronx-can get healthy food at affordable prices. But this means that the Bloomberg administration must play hardball with one of its favored nations developers, something it has been reluctant to do; a situation made harder by all of the selfless help that Related, Ross and the NYC Partnership have been giving the mayor on congestion taxing.

And while the Bloombergistas are pushing hard for access to healthier foods, an issue that transcends minor economic considerations (see the mayor's comments on the fact that his cigarette tax would cost local bodegas over $250 million a year in lost revenues), it should be holding its friend Vornado Realty to account for its desire to evict a Key Food supermarket from its Bruckner Boulevard shopping center.

If you want to obtain city benefits-and Vornado is still very much in the running for the Hudson Yards bid-you should be willing to sacrifice something for the health of low income New Yorkers. Let's see if Bloonberg will be as forceful with Vornado and Related as he has been with the city's smallest food retailers.