Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Food Fight at the Armory

It looks as if there will be a major battle over the development of the Kingsbridge Armory. According to the EIS submitted by the Related Companies, the project will include a 60,000 sq. ft supermarket that will not, according to this breathtakingly insightful document, hurt any of the existing markets; "It is expected that a grocery use at that the project site would attract sales largely from the under served portion of the Primary Trade Area...A grocery store use at the project site also could capture substantial sales from portions of the Bronx outside of the Primary Trade Area, most notably residents east of Baychester Road/Interstate 678 where there is currently consumer outflow to Southern Westchester County."

How convenient! So the two immediate supermarkets owned by Morton and Billy Sloan-one directly across from the Armory, and one just down the road, will be spared any negative impact because most of its customers will not move across the street because a new subsidized market is in town. Nostradamus on crack must have crafted this EIS.

All of which underscores the fact that this shapes up to be a mega battle; particularly because of all of the opposition that is lining up against Related-not only the local coalition called KARA, but most of the elected officials and CB# 7 as well. And it could also spill into the upcoming mayoral race, since Bill Thompson has become a Related critic.

What's ironic here, is that Related is using the recently certified supermarket zoning/incentive initiative as a rationale: "The Study titled "Going to Market; New York City's Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage," assessed the need for new neighborhood grocery stores across the City..." (p. 3-29) And. using the DCP research on store density-population ratios, the EIS tells us that: "The ratios for the community district in which the proposed project site is located, as well as each of the adjacent community districts, are less than the citywide average, and substantially less than the DCP planning goal. This is one indication that the Primary Trade Area could support additional grocery store retail."

Well, we know that through some quirk in the city's zoning laws, Home Depot has been labeled a neighborhood hardware store, but to claim that a 60,000 sq. ft. supermarket would be a "new neighborhood grocery store" is absurd-it's certainly not Mr. Roger's neighborhood; and it underscores the fact that the city's new incentive program can be seen as problematic because of the manner in which it might threaten the viability of existing stores. It also needs to be pointed out, that the city's plan for new food stores limits them to half the size (30,000 sq. ft) of the supermarket proposed by Related.

Related's sanguine attitude about collateral damage also needs to be put into perspective as a result of the city subsidies that it has garnered. If, as we believe, the Armory development will put local stores at risk, than the granting of tax incentives to this favored development company can be seen in an even less favorable light. The Sloans have invested millions in their two stores, and have paid hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to the city; without a penny in city aid coming to support their investment-the first major supermarket in the Bronx.

And what about the workers at the two supermarkets-members of Local 338 of the RWDSU? Is there any guarantees that the new market will offer the same level of wages and benefits? Or will this retailer be the same bottom feeder that is going into the new mall on the Deegan? Guaranteed that the RW will be in this fight with all hands on deck.

So the battle lines have been drawn here. And it's not only the Armory that's in the cross hairs-but the mayor's entire supermarket proposal as well. And, perhaps, the mayor himself; last seen making calls on behalf of Related's president in the latter's effort to get past a Fifth Avenue co-op board-as if he wasn't busy enough. So much for the Bloomberg's vaunted "above special interests" mantra.

However, if our analysis of the opposition is correct, Related is facing a considerable uphill battle in this fight. But it must be a sense of déjà vu for Jesse James and company. This time we advise a well thought out Plan B; or else the Kingsbridge Armory will prove to be one bridge too far.