Thursday, September 25, 2008

To Market, To Market...

Last night there was a meeting of the Super Market Task Force of East Harlem, a community that is badly in need of new supermarkets but has instead been experiencing a loss of food stores as rising rents have forced out six markets-with an additional half dozen or so threatened with closure as their leases expire in the next few years. The crisis is a subject of a DOH report: "Supermarkets offer the widest variety of foods and healthy choices—but are less common than bodegas and are dispersed unequally through the neighborhoods. In East and Central Harlem, there are 2 supermarkets per 10,000 people compared to 3 supermarkets per 10,000 on the Upper East Side, which allows Upper East Side residents more opportunity to purchase healthy food. This finding supports other research indicating that supermarket density is associated with higher-income areas and areas with a lower proportion of black residents."

There is, however, one immediate solution at hand-the 125th-127th Street redevelopment project in East Harlem which comes to the City Council for a vote next month could include a new supermarket right on Second Avenue-but a certain degree of flexibility will be necessary in order to make sure it can happen. It certainly won't happen if the city just hands over the entire parcel-as it appears likely-to our friends over at Vornado Realty and Distrust.

And while we have a particular animus against Vornado for its efforts to evict an existing Key Food fro a shopping center it owns in the Bronx, the difficulty here transcends the poor citizenship of the real estate giant. If Vornado, or any other company, is designated it will seek the highest rent possible for a retailer on the site-probably $45 per square foot or more; a rent that no market could afford to pay.

There is a good alternative, and we have spoken to Council Member Viverito about this. The best method for guaranteeing a new market would be for the city to take a chunk of the city owned land and set it aside for a supermarket. By reducing the land acquisition costs to zero-after all, this is a public health crisis, the building f an affordable supermarket could get done on the site.

In fact, the city could emulate the original Pathmark deal on 125th and Lexington where a community partnership was devised between the supermarket and Abyssinian Church. This should be seen as an imperative since the recently released DCP report on the dearth of supermarkets in certain low income neighborhoods has made this-supposedly-a major city priority: "Three million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods with high need for grocery stores and supermarkets. Neighborhoods such as Central and East Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan; Bushwick, Bedford Stuyvesant, East New York and Sunset Park in Brooklyn; Corona, Jamaica and Far Rockaway in the greatest need for full-line supermarkets."

It's time for the city to put up or shut up. All this lip service about the need for new supermarkets has not been met with any commensurate action. In fact, the failure to even consider a supermarket as a vital component of this proposed project is all telling. The land on Second Avenue is available and would be ideal for a new market-let's get busy Mayor Mike.