Coalition Demands Bill de Blasio Block Walmart in Astoria

Astoria Cove rendering by STUDIO V.

Astoria Cove rendering by STUDIO V.

An anti-Walmart coalition is demanding that the de Blasio administration keep the big box store out of a new development in Astoria, Queens.

Walmart Free-NYC, in conjunction with the city councilman representing Astoria, recently announced their efforts to combat a potential Walmart–and now the group is upping the ante by sending a letter to Mr. de Blasio and his top deputies. The group is arguing that Walmart, criticized on the left for its resistance to unionization and paying higher wages, should continue to stay away from New York City.

“In our communities, low-wage worker organizing has intensified because more families are struggling to survive. At Astoria Cove, your administration can raise standards for job creation and set a new model for development, but only if Alma Realty is instructed to keep out low-road employers like Walmart and bring in retailers with a better track record on job creation,” wrote Audrey Sasson, the director of Walmart Free-NYC, in a letter obtained by the Observer.

“Much of the low-wage worker organizing in our city is responding to the negative impact of Walmart on our economy. Walmart, the largest employer in the country, has created a race to the bottom, resulting in lower wages, fewer benefits, and less security for workers here and across the country. The harm of Walmart has long been seen and felt,” she continued.

The letter is addressed to Mr. de Blasio, Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development and Carl Weisbrod, the director of the Department of City Planning. The proposed Astoria Cove project–a 2.2 million square foot and 1,700 unit waterfront and retail complex–is making its way through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process, where Mr. Weisbrod’s department, along with the City Council, must sign off on it. A City Planning hearing on the project is scheduled for today.

The local community board and the Queens Borough President Melinda Katz already issued advisory opinions against Astoria Cove at least partly because the project, in their estimation, doesn’t have enough affordable housing units. The developer, Alma Realty, recently promised to add a ferry terminal to the development to address the public transportation concerns of Astoria residents.

Astoria Cove is one of the many new developments that must ultimately be built to fulfill Mr. de Blasio’s ambitious affordable housing pledge: the mayor has promised, over the course of less than a decade, to build 200,000 units of affordable housing.

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said he is opposed to a Walmart coming to Astoria.

“Maximizing good paying jobs is a priority for this administration in everything we do, from affordable housing to economic development,” the spokesman, Wiley Norvell, said. “As for Walmart, there’s no question Mayor de Blasio opposes the company’s practices. The retailer has not been, nor will it be, considered here.”

Walmart, which has locations bordering the city, tried and failed recently to bring a store to East New York in Brooklyn. The retailer has no immediate known plan to build in Astoria, though a spokesman dismissed the efforts of Walmart Free-NYC as a “another stunt from a special interest to gain attention.”

Updated with comment from Mr. de Blasio’s office.

View the full letter below:

Dear Mayor Bill de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, and Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod:

We are a large, diverse, and growing citywide coalition committed to increasing economic opportunities, good jobs, and vibrant businesses in neighborhoods throughout New York City.

We are writing to you regarding Astoria Cove, a massive new development planned for the Queens waterfront that is the subject of a major City Planning Commission hearing today.  

There will be a big retail business component at Astoria Cove, a project that will occupy more than 2 million square feet. We request that your administration require Alma Realty, the developer of Astoria Cove, to prioritize responsible retailers with a record of creating good jobs.

Retail is a fast-growing low-wage sector of our economy, and today nearly half of all New Yorkers live near the poverty line. You can help reverse this trend by ensuring that new developments like Astoria Cove include employers ready to offer the best jobs to residents.

In our communities, low-wage worker organizing has intensified because more families are struggling to survive. At Astoria Cove, your administration can raise standards for job creation and set a new model for development, but only if Alma Realty is instructed to keep out low-road employers like Walmart and bring in retailers with a better track record on job creation.

Much of the low-wage worker organizing in our city is responding to the negative impact of Walmart on our economy. Walmart, the largest employer in the country, has created a race to the bottom, resulting in lower wages, fewer benefits, and less security for workers here and across the country. The harm of Walmart has long been seen and felt. That is why New Yorkers have fought so hard to prevent Walmart from opening stores anywhere in the five boroughs.

Now, concerned Astoria residents, community leaders, clergy, and Council Member Costa Constantinides are focused on ensuring that Walmart has no point of entry into Astoria Cove.

We know that you share our concerns about Walmart and we have been heartened by your administration’s public opposition to Walmart coming into New York City.

We look forward to continuing to partner with your administration to ensure that the best economic opportunities are available to New Yorkers who are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Today we will offer testimony at the City Planning Commission’s hearing on Astoria Cove, and we urge you to consider our recommendations closely, especially given the importance Astoria Cove holds for the future of development in New York City.

We ask that you join us today in saying no to Walmart at Astoria Cove and yes to responsible retailers that will create good jobs and strengthen the lives of New Yorkers.

Sincerely,

Audrey Sasson

Walmart-Free NYC, Director