Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Walmart in State of Play

As the NY Daily News is reporting this morning, there is a significant chunk of state land in play where Related Companies wants to plunk down a 180,000 square foot Walmonster: "Walmart's dream of opening its first New York City store could hit a roadblock in Albany. The company is eying a site in East New York, Brooklyn, where developer Related Cos. still needs to buy 20.5 acres of empty state-owned land. State officials are negotiating a purchase price with Related for the Gateway II project, but Walmart opponents hope to persuade Gov. Paterson to block the process and keep the store out."

Now, we have already pointed out about the potential problem with the state land, but no one is really depending on the outgoing governor to do anything-all of this will be placed squarely in Andrew Cuomo's lap. But it is an interesting wrinkle that should be fleshed out: "Paterson has not taken sides in the Walmart debate, and it is unclear that the sale of state land would require the governor's sign-off. A spokeswoman for the governor said a 1994 law requires the sale at a "fair and equitable price," which several state agencies are negotiating with Related. "There is nothing on the governor's desk about the property," spokeswoman Jessica Bassett said. "We are continuing to negotiate as we have been with Related."

One thought that comes to mind when "fair and equitable" is the operative phrase, is whether Related is keeping Big Wally under wraps in order to get the state to sell the property at a discount-because the siting of Walmart may raise the value of the land in the eyes of appraisers as well as the state. But in a well attended press conference yesterday, local CM Charles Barron, joined by Assembly member Inez Barron and CM Mark-Viveritto, called out the governor and urged him to not transfer the property.

As the Daily News points out: "The governor should not sign off on this until they get an agreement not to destroy our economy with Walmart," said City Councilman Charles Barron, who represents the area and said Related broke a promise not to bring Walmart there." Barron went on in the presser to outline the bad faith exhibited by Related in the negotiations to get approval for the Gateway expansion-an issue that could be grounds for one aspect of a legal challenge to the project.

At the press conference, the elected officials were joined by community activists and local store owners. My Fox has the story: "Protesters offered strong opposition and strong words against Wal-Mart building a store in New York City...This is the third time Wal-Mart has made a push to come to New York City. The discount megastore hopes the third time is the charm. But City Councilman Charles Barron says Wal-Mart is not welcome."

And NY1 cited the store owner opposition: "Wal-Mart does not get their products from local suppliers. So it's not just the store owners that should be worried about this, but also local suppliers who are not going to have us to buy from them to sell them in the same community," said Supermarket Owner Louis Hernandez."

This battle, however, has just begun-and, as the News reports, the issue of jobs will come into play: "The property is in the district of Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, who hasn't made up his mind about Walmart. "His biggest preoccupation has been putting New Yorkers back to work, and Walmart, of course, comes with jobs," said spokesman Michael Roberts. "But he also has to balance that against the issue of the impact on small and medium-sized businesses in his district." At a City Hall rally yesterday, Barron made his position clear. "We will not be your slaves and you're not bringing that plantation to East New York," he said."

Yesterday afternoon, Walmart bused in about 75 folks for East New York to generate an impression of grass roots support-as they are trying to do with the local Hispanic chambers of commerce. But once you get passed phony push polls, and educate New Yorkers about the collateral damages that a Walmart brings, we believe that support for the real estate giant will be an inch deep-something that will be seen on January 12th when the city council convenes its oversight hearing.