CB3 Debates Strategies for Keeping Walmart out of the LES

A Walmart Express store in Prairie Grove, Arkansas.

Last night, Community Board 3 resumed a debate begun last month about whether Walmart is salivating at the possibility of opening a store on the Lower East Side and what (if anything) should be done to block the controversial chain for gaining s foothold here.

A month ago, Bertha Lewis of the advocacy group, “Walmart Free NYC” warned members of CB3’s economic development committee that vigilance is required if the much-loathed retail giant is to be kept out of New York.  She suggested the Seward Park redevelopment project (SPURA), which is likely to include some “mid-box” stores (10-30,000 square feet) would present an attractive opportunity to Walmart, which is reportedly looking to enter the Manhattan market. The company recently debuted “Walmart Express,” a small store format (10,000 square feet).

The community board had invited Walmart to appear before the committee. Last night, however, co-chair Meghan Joye said it appeared unlikely the company would take CB3 up on the offer.  There are no indications, she added, that Walmart has any interest in the city-owned Seward Park site. Another board member David Conn, speculated that the company would not bother with city-owned properties (which are subject to the public land use process). Instead, Conn (an apparel industry executive who does business with the chain) suggested, Walmart would probably opt for privately owned sites in which the public has no role to play in lease negotiations.

Last month, John Shapiro, the city’s planning consultant, advised CB3 to avoid passing any resolution specifically banning Walmart. It would be more effective, he said, to detail qualities the community would like to see in retail tenants.  For example, Shapiro explained, the community board could make a strong statement about local hiring and about preferring companies who pay their workers a “living wage.”

Yesterday, Joel Feingold of GOLES, the neighborhood preservation group, urged CB3 to make a strong statement against Walmart. He noted that the community will be powerless to influence what stores go into the Seward Park buildings, once ULURP (the land use process) is completed sometime next year.

Members of the anti-Walmart organization said residents in East New York are finding out about the limits of community power the hard way. There has been speculation that Walmart is eying a large shopping center being built by the Related Companies. As the New York Times reported, “all Wal-Mart would need to do is sign a lease,” if it wanted to open a store within the East New York project.

Last night, the committee moved ahead with plans to draft a resolution spelling out in general terms what types of tenants the community would like to see in the Seward park redevelopment. It probably will not be voted on until September.