Wooing Walmart: NYC brokers still have eyes for elusive retailer

“When it comes to accepting stuff, Walmart is one of the leaders in banishing that from the business,” said Mr. Breslin. “I was at a lunch once with some Walmart guys and a real estate developer who represented Walmart,” added Mr. Breslin.

“I was just tagging along. I just happened to be in the city that day, and he said come out for lunch with me. He went to pay the bill, and the two Walmart guys were whipping out their cash and checkbooks to pay their portion of the bill.”

Still, the chain came close in 2005 to setting up shop in a Vornado Properties-owned, 132,000-square-foot space in Rego Park, Queens, but it was met with swift opposition by City Council members and other public officials who decried its tendency to gobble up small mom-and-pop stores in its path. Walmart and Vornado eventually backed away from the plans.

Since then, other big-box retailers with less political controversy have opened up throughout the outer boroughs: Costco, Century 21, Kohl’s, B.J.’s Wholesale Club, Target, even German retailer Aldi.

In the meantime, Related Companies has reportedly been speaking with Wal-Mart about moving into a 650,000-square-foot site in its Gateway II shopping center in East New York, Brooklyn. The City Council and many public officials remain opposed to any such development, including State Senator Diane Savino, who has criticized the Related Companies for its Wal-Mart overtures.

Three other Queens politicians, meanwhile, sent a letter to Related chief executive Stephen Ross urging him not to bring the retailer to Gateway II or any other Related-owned New York City location.

In the meantime, a long line of brokers and landlords made overtures at a booth tended by Walmart at the ICSC conference on Monday, but most were referred to a representative of the chain’s “Real Estate Directors East” team, Mary Rottler, who, one Walmart representative said, “would be at the conference [Tuesday.]”

drosen@observer.com