Drops Plan for City's First Wal-Mart
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times
Whatever eventually rises on this site in Rego Park, Queens, the
city's first Wal-Mart will not be part of it.
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: February 24, 2005
Facing intense opposition, a large real estate developer has dropped
its plans to include a Wal-Mart store in a Queens shopping complex,
thwarting Wal-Mart's plan to open its first store in New York
City, city officials and real estate executives said yesterday.
The decision by the developer, Vornado Realty Trust, is a blow
to Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and comes after company
officials said that New York City was an important new frontier
in which Wal-Mart was eager to expand.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company was still exploring other
sites in the city, but the possibility that the company would
open a 132,000-square-foot store in Queens had immediately stirred
a storm of opposition by neighborhood, labor and environmental
groups as well as small businesses. Wal-Mart also faced opposition
from many City Council members and several members of Congress.
Labor unions fought Wal-Mart with a special intensity because
they believe its wage levels and benefits are pulling down standards
for workers through the United States.
Melinda Katz, chairwoman of the Council's Land Use Committee,
said a Vornado representative informed her yesterday that Vornado
was no longer negotiating with Wal-Mart for it to be part of the
mall planned for Rego Park, Queens, in 2008.
"I think they just decided it's not worth the complications
of having Wal-Mart," Ms. Katz said. "The idea of Wal-Mart
was overshadowing what could very well be a good project."
Roanne Kulakoff, a Vornado spokeswoman, declined to comment,
except to say there was never a formal deal between Vornado and
Wal-Mart. But one executive briefed on the talks between Vornado
and Wal-Mart said Vornado had concluded that keeping Wal-Mart
would jeopardize the city's approval of a large, ambitious project
that included other stores and two 25-story apartment towers.
"There were people who felt it was a major risk for the
project," said the executive, who asked not to be identified
in order not to anger either side.
The executive said Vornado had originally hoped that city planning
officials would approve the Rego Park project before it before
it became publicly known that Wal-Mart was involved. But once
Wal-Mart's participation became public, the opposition mushroomed,
and the fight was shaping up to be the biggest battle against
a single store in the city's history.
Small-business advocates declared victory after the decision
was made public, but predicted that the battle would resume in
other neighborhoods. "Vornado saw the writing on the wall
and responded the way a developer needs to when he knows he's
holding a losing hand," said Richard Lipsky, a spokesman
for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, an anti-Wal-Mart coalition
in New York. "We stopped Wal-Mart this time, but they are
going to continue their efforts to open in New York and we will
be sure to meet that with significant opposition wherever else
they try to locate."
Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's director of corporate affairs for the
Eastern region, sought to play down yesterday's developments.
She noted that Vornado and Wal-Mart had never signed a formal
deal to include Wal-Mart in the complex, planned to be built near
the intersection of Queens Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway.
Nonetheless, city planning officials and City Council members
said Vornado had told them that it wanted to include Wal-Mart.
"We never had a deal," Ms. Masten said, adding that
Wal-Mart remains interested in opening stores in New York City.
"In fact, we continue to explore a number of possible sites
throughout the five boroughs," she said. "Until we have
an executed agreement for a specific site, we will not comment
on any ongoing negotiations."
Ms. Masten declined to say whether Vornado had dropped Wal-Mart
from the project or whether Wal-Mart had pulled out voluntarily.
Wal-Mart's opponents said that Vornado might have been swayed
in part by a unanimous vote of the City Council's Land Use Committee
two weeks ago to block a B.J.'s Wholesale Club in the Bronx. In
the face of intense lobbying by environmental, community and labor
groups, the committee overruled the local planning board and the