Monday, July 12, 2010

Those Missing Flushing Businesses

We have already reported on the fact that the EDC consultants-and has AKRF been bought out and fully absorbed yet as an EDC subsidiary?-have under counted the number of Flushing businesses impacted by the Flushing Commons project, missing 1130 small shop keepers and entrepreneurs; no small feat. But now the entire Hunter College Center for Community Planning & Development report is almost complete, and the missing businesses are apparently only the beginning of the consultants' failure to properly evaluate the economic impact of Flushing Commons on neighborhood immigrant entrepreneurs.

Here are the Hunter reports key findings:

* Downtown Flushing is home to over 2,100 retail and service businesses, more than twice the number (970) that AKRF counted in the survey for the EIS

* Local businesses are the economic engine of Downtown Flushing. National chain stores currently comprise only 1.9% of businesses in Downtown Flushing.

* The EDC presents no evidence to support its argument that chain retail stores at Flushing Commons will only compete with other regional chain retail destinations and not have a negative impact on existing local businesses.

* It is more likely that the proposed retail at Flushing Commons will directly compete with over 450 locally owned retail shops. Most of these businesses are densely clustered within three blocks of the Flushing Commons site. These businesses are currently competing with only a small number of chain stores.

* EDC’s quantitative economic analysis is based on a 3-mile “primary trade area” that has little relevance to the economic conditions of the Downtown Flushing core.

In the first place, when examining the failure of EDC to support its claim that the chain retail stores will not compete with any of the local, it is important to point out that, as bad as the consultants are, all of this is sheer speculation since the developer hasn't revealed any of its tenants (remember Wal-Mart at Gateway?). But the EDC report has a serious methodological flaw-as the Hunter report highlights: "The EDC presents no evidence whatsoever to support the assumption that new chain retail in Downtown Flushing will compete only with existing chain retail centers in other parts of the city and region. The shopping centers at Rego Park and College Point already have all of the chain stores that will likely locate at Flushing Commons, in higher concentrations and with easier automobile access to the majority of Queens households who drive. If regional consumers are seeking chain retail or big box shopping, better choices than the proposed project already exist."

And its clear from EDC's own traffic analysis that downtown Flushing will not be easily accessed by car dependentt shoppers-leaving the Flushing Commons stores to depend on local shoppers: "Therefore, new chain retail at Flushing Commons will compete primarily with existing small businesses within Downtown Flushing. The EDC correctly invalidates its own argument based on the “3 mile primary trade area” when it asserts in the EIS that “the proposed project would draw a large portion of its repeat business from residents who live within the smaller, approximately ½ mile study area as a result of more convenient access” (3-17). Having acknowledged this point, it is inappropriate to then reach a conclusion of no negative impact."

Since the developer's tenants are unknown, we are left with vague and generic speculations in the EIS as to the mix of store categories:

"Flushing Commons will add 266,500 square feet of retail and 33,500 square feet of restaurant space. According to the EIS, half of this retail space will be allotted to “destination retail” with “large shoppers’ goods stores,” while the other 50% will go to “convenience goods” stores. Annual sales at Flushing Commons are estimated at $141.6 million: $57.0 million in “shoppers’ goods”, $68.8 million in “convenience goods,” and $15.8 million from bars and restaurants (33-24).

These estimates do not seem to be based on any factual evidence as the developer has not provided a list of committed tenants or detail of the floorplans of the retail uses. Indeed, the EIS is vague about the future makeup of Flushing Commons retail, stating that “the project is expected to attract national brand-name retailers, including upscale men and women’s clothing retailers, an off-price department store, shoe stores, a kitchen supply store, a book store, a furniture store, and a home goods store” (3-27). All of these potential types of tenant would fall under the “shoppers’ goods” category, so it is difficult to understand why the EDC estimates that more than half of the sales will be in the “convenience goods” category."

But, taking the EDC analysis at face value, we find that its, "non-compete," conclusion is simply made out of whole cloth-as the Hunter report highlights: "Nevertheless, if we use EDC’s forecast for a mix of large shoppers’ goods and convenience goods chain stores, it is likely that the retail at Flushing Commons will directly compete with over 450 existing neighborhood shops, most of which are concentrated within three blocks of the site. These include 146 clothing/shoes/accessories shops, 74 electronics/cell phone stores, 31 furniture stores, 46 general merchandise stores, 21 DVD/music stores, 68 pharmacies/cosmetics stores, 15 home goods stores, 38 convenience stores, and 38 food markets of various sizes. If we conservatively estimate that each of these shops employs four people, then Flushing Commons has the potential to place over 1,800 local jobs at risk." (emphasis added)

If so, then the hoo ha from EDC over the 1900 new jobs if Flushing Commons is built, is put in a remarkably different light-and underscores just how the agency trumpets collateral benefits while totally ignoring collateral damages in its projects. And the collateral damages are always bone by the city's most vulnerable small business sector. And EDC covers this fact up with collusion from pocket-sized consultants.

As Hunter concludes: "In the end, EDC’s argument for “no adverse impact” is not based on any quantitative data or real analysis of the Flushing business community. It rests on an unsubstantiated assumption: the belief that national chain retail in Downtown Flushing will not compete with existing businesses because the “goods and services will not overlap with local shops” (3-32). This study shows that more than 450 businesses within a half mile of the Flushing Commons site sell goods and services that will directly overlap and compete with the proposed development."

So, given the fact that there is a real chance of a significant risk to the Flushing small business community-and 1800 jobs-if Flushing Commons is built; and given the fact that it is the retail component of the project that will have the most deleterious impact on both traffic and parking, what makes the most sense here is to dramatically downscale the retail at the development in order to mitigate the harmful impacts that we have delineated. That, Amanda Burden, would be closer to true sustainability; and not the faux variety that you and the mayor are peddling.