Friday, July 10, 2009

Supermarket Spat Continues at the Armory

As the final CB#7 vote on the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory approaches, the question of whether the project will include a 60,000 square foot supermarket remains unresolved; and the Norwood News covers this quite well this week: "Avi Kaner, vice president and part owner of the Morton Williams supermarket chain, picks up a box of Driscoll’s brand strawberries off the produce rack in the company’s Kingsbridge Road store and says, “Look, same as you get at Whole Foods in Manhattan.” Quality produce is just one reason why Kaner believes the city should do something to save Morton Williams from being crushed by an incoming big box supermarket at the redeveloped Kingsbridge Armory."

Not every one agrees, of course; and even though the board's land use committee did no include a recommendation for a supermarket, there's always a chance that the resolution could be amended at the full board meeting this Tuesday. Which would, in our view, be a mistake: "Kaner and Morton Williams President Morton Sloan say a new, giant supermarket, working with the help of city subsidies, would force them to close the two supermarkets they operate on Jerome Avenue — one just across the street from the Armory, the other just a few blocks down the road, closer to Fordham Road. Combined, the two stores are only about 50,000 square feet, Sloan says. “They would destroy us,” Sloan added."

And the Morton Williams stores wouldn't be the only ones impacted. There's a large green grocer right across the street from the Armory-and a C-Town and Pioneer Supermarket right down the block in both directions. In all, there are 45 supermarkets in the two mile trade area. But not to worry, the developer's environmental review tells us that the large market in the Armory would have no impact on any existing supermarket.

Kind of makes you wonder what else they have gotten wrong in their review. But, we were intrigued by a rebuttal comment to the Norwood News by our old friend Masyr: "But Lipsky says Morton Williams main position is that it’s unfair for a developer to use city tax breaks (which add up to almost $100 million total) to put them out of business, especially if the RFP explicitly says new businesses at the Armory shouldn’t compete with existing businesses.
If they were to follow that request to the letter, Masyr said the Armory would remain empty. “I can promise you that virtually everything we hope to sell, is probably going to be available somewhere else in Kingsbridge area,” he said."

Right on Jesse! Which is precisely why it is just bad public policy to use tax payer dollars to subsidize retail developments. Inevitably, it involves very little real job growth-and simply shifts jobs from existing local-and mostly minority owned-small business-to out of town chain stores. Exacerbating this poor policy push, is the fact that the developer and the city are resisting-to the point of the mayor standing firm at the endorsement session of the WFP on this issue-any living wage component in the proposed community benefits agreement.

We will undoubtedly hear the mayor soon crowing about the "job creation" at the Armory-but the real end result of this bait and switch is that locally owned retail stores will be further pushed into dire economic straights in the middle of a recession-and the proliferation of, "For Rent" signs, will be another indication of the success of Bloomberg five borough economic plan.

And a final point in surrebuttal to Masyr. There is a difference between supermarkets and other retailers. In the first place, the city has a policy of encouraging supermarket growth-something that the mega-market in the armory would actually stifle. Secondly, and as importantly, putting supermarkets at risk of closing has a ripple effect on all of the surrounding commercial strips where these markets attract customers to all the other neighborhood retailers.

The Armory project is flawed on a number of levels; and there is a growing recognition of this on the part of the entire Bronx delegation. As we have said in our action memo that has caused considerable stir: “We expect to have the support of the entire [Bronx] delegation which will put us in the right political position to insure the supermarket use [at the Armory] is excluded..."

The support of loyal local businesses and good living wages may be an anathema to the current administration; but the city council and, hopefully, a young and progressive new Bronx BP will take a different tack. If they do, this battle will be a real win for the Kingsbridge community.