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Astoria Cove Puts Freshman Council Member in Spotlight

As the 2.2-million-square foot Astoria Cove proposal winds its way through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, Council Member Costa Constantinides, a Queens Democrat who represents Astoria and parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, laid out how he would judge the planned mixed-use development for Commercial Observer during an exclusive tour of the 8.7-acre-site overlooking Pot Cove on the East River yesterday.

The first-term council member whose vote will inform that of his colleagues once the project reaches the City Council later this fall dished on his hopes for a new ferry route from the site to Manhattan and spelled out how he’s pushing for the project to maintain his native Astoria’s character while changing the neighborhood for the better, but he’ll have to navigate turbulent waters among the many parties that wield influence in the city’s land use proceedings while managing the always-tense affordability component of the proposal.

“This is an opportunity; if done correctly, it’s going to transform the waterfront, but it has to be done correctly,” Mr. Constantinides, 39, said as he greeted constituents at the nearby Astoria Houses public housing complex. He added, “It’s definitely a process. We’re talking with everyone to make sure everyone has a voice and that the developers hear that voice.”

An investor group called “2030 Astoria Developers LLC” that includes the Long Island City-based Alma Realty Corp. has already promised public benefits from the development and adjusted its proposal after Community Board 1 voted 44-0 against the proposal on June 24 in an advisory ruling. The developers upped their affordability ratio to 20 percent from an earlier proportion of 17 percent and committed to funding new public open space elsewhere in the area in addition to the 83,846 square feet of public open space already planned for a waterfront esplanade and new streets approaching the cove. They also aim to build a 456-seat elementary school and 109,470 square feet of retail sites, including a 25,000-square-foot supermarket.

The developers’ representative in the ULURP negotiations, Howard Weiss of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, notes that the developers are now utilizing a city program that allows them to build out a total of 1,723 units while requiring that at least 20 percent of the floor area–about 345 units–be affordable. The development group has declined to use any public financing to subsidize the units but they agreed to increase the overall number if they request the public financing, Mr. Weiss said, expressing confidence they would eventually win Mr. Constantinides’ approval.

“It’s been very productive working with him,” Mr. Weiss said. “We met several times with him and we’re in constant communication. We expect, when this reaches the Council, it will have his full support.”

Mr. Constantinides agreed that the developers have shown willingness to compromise thus far in the process. But though he noted that possible new grocery stores both at Astoria Cove and at Lincoln Equities Group’s adjacent 2,644-unit Hallets Point development that passed ULURP last year would be the neighborhood’s first new supermarkets in two decades, the former Council staffer cited preserving the neighborhood’s commercial context as a key indicator on his potential support.

“We’re asking that the retail space fits within the small business character of what Astoria is,” said Mr. Constantinides. “We don’t want to see something like a Walmart move in that sort of sucks the small business character out of the community.”

The lawmaker noted that the project would expand the street grid and open a portion of the waterfront that’s now cut off by the industrial businesses that still dominate the project site. But he wants to enhance the coastline further through a commuter ferry or at least an eco-dock where fishing enthusiasts from Astoria Houses could cast lines and local schools could hold educational programs. A weekday route connecting a new terminal at Astoria Cove to new installations on Roosevelt Island, and in Long Island City, Midtown and Lower Manhattan would cost $2.7 million in annual subsidies and $23 million in capital costs, the city Economic Development Corporation found in a 2013 study. But the quicker commute from the site that’s a 15 to 20-minute walk from the nearest subway would be a worthwhile investment, Mr. Constantinides said, noting that last year’s Hallet’s Point rezoning commissioned a $500,000 feasibility study of a new ferry dock on the site.

“I’m committed to bringing a ferry here,” he said, pointing out a tattered landing pier that juts into the East River. “A ferry transforms this peninsula. Nobody has made a credible argument that the ferry is not a good idea.”

Rather, the number of affordable units on the site has represented the most contentious issue of the rezoning negotiations thus far. The Real Affordability for All Coalition, a group of almost 50 advocates and unions, is calling for at least 50 percent of the new housing to be affordable, a level that Mr. Weiss says would make the project unfeasible for the developers. But the coalition, whose members contend that the site’s potential 421-a tax abatement would allow the developer to pay for the affordable units, is making its presence known at each stage of the rezoning, such as a recent press conference where Mr. Constantinides appeared alongside the leaders of the movement.

“I get the sense that he has the same goal that we do–to keep the Astoria area intact,” said Jaron Benjamin, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing. “If you’re going to build affordable housing with tax breaks then we need to get as much out of this as possible.”

Mr. Constantinides has thus far declined to focus on any particular number, though he notes the centrality of affordable housing to the debate.

“We’re looking to make sure there’s an appropriate number,” he said. “I don’t have a magic number. Of course 345 is better than 295, but I’m not saying there’s an end-all number.”

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in an email that the Administration is watching the process closely and noted the developers’ plans to build the affordable housing without the normal public financing for the units.

“This is the developer’s proposal, and it’ll take some time to determine how well what’s being proposed meets this community’s needs,” Mr. Norvell said. “But there’s no question we’re seeing a shift in the landscape when developers are willing to require themselves to build affordable housing and forego public subsidy for the required affordable component.”

With Queens Borough President Melinda Katz expected to submit her recommendations on Astoria Cove soon, the matter will then shift to a City Planning Commission hearing scheduled for Aug. 6 before the proposal moves to its decisive up-or-down vote in City Council this fall.

De Blasio: Walmart unwelcome in New York City

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that Walmart stores don’t belong in New York City, a sharp contrast to his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s position that the retailer creates jobs and would keep city shoppers from traveling to Walmarts in the suburbs.

“I don’t think it is a state secret that I am very uncomfortable with Walmart,” said de Blasio, who as a councilman and the city’s public advocate railed against the giant retail chain. “I have been adamant that I don’t think Walmart — the company, the stores — belong in New York City, and I continue to feel that.”

De Blasio was answering a question about a protest earlier in the week by labor unions and more than half the 51-member City Council over the company’s charity arm donating millions of dollars to local groups for items such as blankets for the homeless and food for the hungry.

De Blasio, who has previously denounced the company as a killer of good jobs that ultimately cost the government money to subsidize a low-paid workforce, took no position on whether the charities should accept the philanthropy.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer has been trying for years, without success largely because of council opposition, to gain a foothold in New York City. The company did not return a message seeking comment.

In 2010, Bloomberg said the company provides many entry-level jobs and he defended the retailer’s right to open in the five boroughs. “If you would do surveys in, for example, southeast Queens, people are going to Nassau County to shop at Walmart,” the former mayor said then. “If you do surveys in lower Manhattan, they’re driving over to New Jersey.”

Also Thursday, de Blasio made a pitch to Barack Obama to put his presidential library and museum at Columbia University, where he received his undergraduate degree, after he leaves office.

“I’ve certainly let the Obama team know that we are excited about the idea, that we would do anything that we can to be helpful to it,” de Blasio said.

Other contenders include Chicago, where the president spent much of his adult life, and Hawaii, where he grew up. Obama has expressed interest in relocating to New York after his presidency.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

City Council members rip Walmart’s charity of ‘dangerous dollars’

More than half the members of the City Council have fired off a letter to Walmart demanding that it stop making millions in charitable contributions to local groups here.

Twenty-six of the 51 members of the Council charged in the letter that the world’s biggest retailer’s support of local causes is a cynical ploy to enter the market here.

“We know how desperate you are to find a foothold in New York City to buy influence and support here,” says the letter, obtained by The Post and addressed to Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation.

“Stop spending your dangerous dollars in our city,” the testy letter demands. “That’s right: this is a cease-and-desist letter.”

Last week, Walmart announced that it distributed $3 million last year to charities here, including $1 million to the New York Women’s Foundation, which offers job training, and $30,000 to Bailey House, which distributes groceries to low-income residents.

Walmart, which has been thwarted by union-backed opposition for more than a decade, said the handouts “can make a difference on big issues like hunger relief and career development.”

The retail giant said its business agenda “aligns with supporting the local organizations that are important to our customers and associates.”

But Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the donations “toxic money,” and accused Walmart of waging a “cynical public-relations campaign that disguises Walmart’s backwards anti-job agenda.”

Sources said activists will stage a demonstration Wednesday outside City Hall, tearing up giant, mocked-up, Ed McMahon-style checks from Walmart to prove their point.

A key bone of contention is the Waltons’ support of New York City charter schools. Since 2004, the Walton Family Foundation has funneled $16 million into the cause, including the DREAM Charter School, Village Academies and the Success Academy founded by Eva Moskowitz.

“We’re proud of the work they’re doing to transform the public-education landscape and proud to have played a small part in their success,” Walton Family Foundation spokeswoman Daphne Davis Moore said.

Walmart has raised eyebrows with its New York political contributions before.

As reported by The Post, former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz appeared to soften his attitude toward the company in 2011 after the retailer donated $150,000 to his summer Martin Luther King Jr. concert series.

In March, Walmart officials signaled a temporary retreat from efforts to open a New York City store after setbacks at a site in Brooklyn off the Belt Parkway.

Anti-Walmart Coalition Battling Big Box Store at Astoria Cove

They don’t want any bricks in the Wal.

An anti-Walmart coalition and a Queens councilman are announcing a campaign today to keep Walmart, the big box superstore, out of a proposed residential and retail development in Astoria, Queens. It’s not clear yet if Walmart, thwarted before from building in New York City because of its anti-union approach, is planning on an attempt to bring a store to the 2.2 million square foot and 1,700 unit waterfront and retail complex known as Astoria Cove.

Anti-Walmart forces, though, aren’t taking any chances.

“Workers, consumers, and local businesses in Astoria need a retail component that preserves the small-business character of our community. Astoria Cove should prioritize employers that meet the highest standards,” Councilman Costa Constantinides, the area’s representative, said in a statement to the Observer. “The retail component of Astoria Cove should help build entrepreneurship both inside the development and within the greater Astoria community.”

Mr. Constantinides already signed onto an open letter from various City Council members condemning Walmart for flooding the city with philanthropic dollars. The campaign against Walmart, known as Walmart Free-NYC, comes as Astoria Cove wends its way through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is holding a hearing on the project today.

Walmart, which has locations bordering the city, tried and failed recently to bring a store to East New York in Brooklyn. Labor groups, along with Democratic elected officials, railed against the superstore chain for the relatively low wages it pays its workers and its drive to crush unionization efforts.

“Whenever Walmart enters a new community, it’s a huge loss for the people who live and work there. The retail giant has a history of killing good local jobs, undermining small businesses, restricting consumer choice, and paying workers poverty-wages. We won’t let Walmart destroy Astoria,” said Audrey Sasson, the director of Walmart-Free NYC. “The people of Astoria deserve better. Astoria Cove should only include responsible retailers with a track record of creating good jobs and treating workers fairly.”

The Department of City Planning recently certified Astoria Cove, a crucial component of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to build 200,000 units of affordable housing, for review. The community board voted the project down, however, and the left-leaning City Council still needs to vet it.

Various liberal groups and coalitions, including Walmart-Free NYC, New York Communities for Change and Real Affordability for All, are hoping that Astoria Cove doesn’t lead to the further gentrification of western Queens, where real estate prices continue to rise. They want half the units below market rate, far more than the developer is pushing for, and higher wages for the workers on the project. The groups also want the developer to agree to not interfere with union organizing in exchange for workers agreeing not to picket or disrupt the flow of business.

A spokesman for Walmart slammed Walmart Free-NYC’s Astoria campaign as “another stunt.”

“We appreciate when our critics consider us as a good fit for a for a site in NYC, especially when you consider that a lot of the people that live in Astoria Cove are already Walmart shoppers, given they order online or visit our stores in Long Island to get the affordable prices they are looking for,” stated William Wertz, a spokesman for Walmart. “Unfortunately, this is just another stunt from a special interest to gain attention.”

De Blasio: Walmart unwelcome in New York City

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that Walmart stores don’t belong in New York City, a sharp contrast to his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s position that the retailer creates jobs and would keep city shoppers from traveling to Walmarts in the suburbs.

“I don’t think it is a state secret that I am very uncomfortable with Walmart,” said de Blasio, who as a councilman and the city’s public advocate railed against the giant retail chain. “I have been adamant that I don’t think Walmart — the company, the stores — belong in New York City, and I continue to feel that.”

De Blasio was answering a question about a protest earlier in the week by labor unions and more than half the 51-member City Council over the company’s charity arm donating millions of dollars to local groups for items such as blankets for the homeless and food for the hungry.


PHOTOS: Bill de Blasio | NYC mayors


De Blasio, who has previously denounced the company as a killer of good jobs that ultimately cost the government money to subsidize a low-paid workforce, took no position on whether the charities should accept the philanthropy.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer has been trying for years, without success largely because of council opposition, to gain a foothold in New York City. The company did not return a message seeking comment.

In 2010, Bloomberg said the company provides many entry-level jobs and he defended the retailer’s right to open in the five boroughs. “If you would do surveys in, for example, southeast Queens, people are going to Nassau County to shop at Walmart,” the former mayor said then. “If you do surveys in lower Manhattan, they’re driving over to New Jersey.”

Also Thursday, de Blasio made a pitch to Barack Obama to put his presidential library and museum at Columbia University, where he received his undergraduate degree, after he leaves office.

“I’ve certainly let the Obama team know that we are excited about the idea, that we would do anything that we can to be helpful to it,” de Blasio said.

Other contenders include Chicago, where the president spent much of his adult life, and Hawaii, where he grew up. Obama has expressed interest in relocating to New York after his presidency.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

WalmartNYC.com Promotes Report: NYC Store Would Lower Wages

Here’s something you don’t see everyday, Walmart telling the truth.
The ingenious website www.walmartnyc.com which claims to promote real New Yorker opinions, is promoting a report from ABC News which covered NYC Public Advocate’s Bill de Blasio’s report that if a Walmart were to open in NYC retail wages would suffer.  Here’s a screen shot from WalmartNYC’s newsroom:
via: www.walmartnyc.com
We love how the logo above reads, “Helping NYC Save Money and Live Better”, while they source studies that argue they’ll lower retail wages.

Thanks, Walmart!

Rally to Keep Job-Killing Wal-Mart Out of NYC

ABOUT WALMART FREE NYC
 
Walmart Free NYC is a coalition of workers, small business owners, community leaders, clergy and elected officials who are committed to increasing economic opportunities, preserving local businesses, and creating more jobs in communities across New York’s five boroughs.
 
 
WALMART IMPACT STUDIES
 
“The Impact of an Urban Wal-Mart Store on Area Businesses: An Evaluation of One Chicago Neighborhood’s Experience.” Davis, Julie, David Merriman, Lucia Samayoa, Brian Flanagan, Ron Baiman, and Joe Persky, December 2009. Center for Urban Research and Learning Loyola University Chicago.
Available online at http://luc.edu/curl/pdfs/Media/WalMartReport21010_01_11.pdf.
 
“The Effects of Walmart on Local Labor Markets.”  David Neumark, Junfu Zhang, and Stephen Ciccarella. October 2005. Public Policy Institute of California.

Available online at: http://www.businessweek.com/pdfs/2005/david_neumark.pdf

“The Effect of Walmart on Businesses in Host Towns and Surrounding Towns in Iowa.” Kenneth Stone. Iowa State University. November 1988.
Available online at: http://www2.econ.iastate.edu/faculty/stone/Effect%20of%20Walmart%20-%201988%20paper%20scanned.pdf
 

Walmart News: Walmart Confirms Smaller Stores, After Chicago Win, Will Wal-Mart Look to New York?

After Chicago Win, Will Wal-Mart Look to New York?
Wal-Mart won the right to open two more stores in Chicago this year, but does that man the world’s largest retailer can eventually take Manhattan?


Wal-Mart Confirms Smaller Stores
The retailer confirmed that it will open medium- and smaller-sized stores beginning next year in urban areas and small towns. 


Wal-Mart to End Employee Profit-Sharing in February
Wal-Mart plans to end profit-sharing contributions in February, replacing them by matching some of the dollars employees put in their 401(k) retirement plans to pare expenses. Meanwhile, they’re expecting “positive” 4Q sales.


Union Opposes Wal-Mart Expansion
A Rep of UFCW Local 152 said the union will raise objections to the company’s proposed 40,000-square foot addition plans to add a full grocery component, including produce, deli and bakery sections, and keep the store open 24 hours. 

Massmart Meets Unions on Walmart Offer
Massmart executives have contacted labor unions regarding the offer by global retail giant Wal-Mart to purchase the local company for R30billion. 


Wal-Mart To Boost Buying From Local Farms
Wal-Mart is planning to double the sales of fresh produce it sources from local farms in its U.S. stores by the end of 2015. 


Daily Finance: 5 Fun Facts On Wal-Mart
The Top-line numbers don’t convey just how massive Wal-Mart really is. To further understand this retail giant, here are some fun facts that help illustrate its heft…


Holiday Wish: Better Sales
Although the world’s largest retailer has been losing sales to its competitors this year, they expect sales to improve in the critical holiday shopping season. “We expect positive sales results in the fourth quarter”– Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s CEO


New Baltimore Walmart Plans Anger Some

“We’ve looked at all the impacts of big box retailers around the country on urban communities, and we’re not happy with what we learned,”– Betty Robinson of Baltimore

Groups Sue to Block Rohnert Park Wal- Mart Expansion
Sonoma County, CA– The County Conservation Action argue that the council’s decision effectively violated the land use policies outlined in the city’s general plan, which calls for encouraging supermarkets to be “close to where people live”. 

Colonie Rejects Super Walmart Plan
Latham, NY– The board voted unanimously against the proposed 184,000- square-foot store during a public meeting that stretched into the early morning hours of Sept. 15.

Wal-Mart to Split Merchandising Responsibilities Among 4 Executives
The decision, which may not be permanent, raises some uncertainty about how the world’s largest retailer will shape its merchandising  strategy. 

Wal-Mart Remodeling Many Wholesale Clubs
The remodeling is to better compete with rivals such as Costco. The new look includes wider aisles and lower shelves to offer a more expansive view of the store.

Walmart to Become Supercenter in Whitehall

Whitehall, PA– Officials approve plans to tear down Sam’s Club to make way for 180,000-square-foot general merchandise and grocery store with drive-through pharmacy and garden center. 

Wal-Mart Retailers Must Face Organic Milk Lawsuit
A federal appeals court reinstated a nationwide lawsuit accusing Wal-Mart Stores, Target and other major retailers of misleading consumers in the marketing of organic milk. 


Wal-Mart Sets Sights on San Francisco
As a part of its new “urban strategy,” the world’s largest retailer is looking to open two dozen stores in the Bay Area

WakeUpWalmart.com Launches “Hope for the Holidays” Campaign to Highlight Walmart’s Track Record of Poor Product Safety

 
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2009  

WakeUpWalmart.com Launches “Hope for the Holidays” Campaign to Highlight Walmart’s Track Record of Poor Product Safety
 
(Washington, DC) – The 490,000 members of WakeUpWalmart.com today launched a consumer education campaign to highlight Walmart’s track record of stocking dangerous and unsafe products. Activists and community leaders from across the country will come together to inform consumers about Walmart’s business model and how it encourages the production of dangerous products and puts profits above the safety of consumers. Supporters of WakeUpWalmart.com and the National Consumers League will also send Walmart CEO Mike Duke an open letter asking him to put consumer safety ahead of profit this holiday season.
Walmart has repeatedly carried products that have been identified as unsafe or dangerous by reputable consumer safety organizations. Right now, there are children’s holiday gifts offered for sale at stores and online with high levels of dangerous substances including lead, chlorine, arsenic, cadmium, and bromine according to HealthyStuff.org, a project of the Ecology Center and the Center for Environmental Health.
WakeUpWalmart.com and the National Consumers League are calling on Walmart to pull these dangerous products. These products include:
     Zhu Zhu Pets
     Mrs. Potato Head
     Walmart brand black and yellow frog wallet
     Disney Princesses pink belt
     iCarly pink belt
     10 Squirtin’ Sea Buddies
     A Touch & Feel Bedtime Book
     Chux! Fling Shots
     Our Good 5 Game Combo (Badminton, Volleyball, Shuttle Smash, Flying Disc, Jelly Ball)
     The Original Little Red Wagon – Model #32
     Small Bakugan Battle Brawlers Backpack
     The Original – Butterfly Watch
     Red Flame Watch
     Green Giraffe Print Bag
 “As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart should be a leader in improving safety standards for the products it carries,” said Pat O’Neill, Executive Vice President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “Unfortunately, right now Walmart is using its size to push suppliers to produce at a lower cost which could end up compromising product safety. Saving money and living better should not mean pushing suppliers to cut costs that may result in cutting corners. Our wish list for Walmart is that they ensure their products are safe, so families don’t have to worry. Walmart can certainly afford to take extra precautions to inform customers of potential safety concerns.”
In addition to educating consumers about Walmart’s unsafe business practices and dangerous products, WakeUpWalmart.com, the National Consumers League, and their supporters will sign an open letter to Mike Duke demanding that Walmart take responsibility for the products on its shelves. In it, consumers tell Duke that, “We know Walmart can afford to do right by America’s families and help make this holiday a safe one. As the nation’s largest retailer, Walmart has an obligation to pull products with toxic levels of chemicals from its shelves—and end the unsafe practice of pushing suppliers into cutting corners.”
For more information please visit http://www.wakeupwalmart.com/feature/holiday2009.
###
UFCW News Service
www.ufcw.org
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UFCW Coalition Launches New Wal-Mart Campaign,

“Nobody wants an economy where workers earn wages that can’t support a family. Nobody wants an economy where people who go to work everyday and work hard have to turn to public assistance for basic needs.” 

-UFCW International President Joe Hansen, announced a new national comprehensive American values-driven agenda to hold Walmart accountable to its workers, our communities and the planet.

The UFCW announced a campaign challenging Wal-Mart to change its corporate practices for the sake of the economy and the communities in which it operates.
“We want to see some real change,” said Patrick J. O’Neill, international vice president of UFCW in today’s Washington Post.  You may watch the new advertisements here. Or Below

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gh43X5Yh-1M]

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