New Flatbush Ave shopping center could fit Walmart

Pols play ‘Stall-mart’ to keep retail giant from Brooklyn
Photo by Paul Sakuma

A new retail center is coming to the southern tip of Flatbush Avenue — and it could bring Walmart with it.

The city, with the help of Forest City Ratner Companies, says it wants to expand a shopping strip where a Toys ’R’ Us currently sits between Kings Plaza and the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to accommodate up to three more stores, more parking and 15 acres of parkland. The new shopping center — dubbed the Four Sparrows Retail Center — would be just big enough to house a Walmart superstore, so critics of the Bentonville Behemoth where quick to question the plan.

“I don’t know what the idea is,” said Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano as she prepared to attend a scoping session on the proposed project on Tuesday night. “We still don’t know who’s coming to the site. We could wake up one morning and find a Walmart there. There’s too many variables.”

Two of those variables have already been determined: the toy store will remain, and Kristal Auto Mall, the city’s largest minority-owned car dealership, currently located at the corner of Kings Highway and Foster Avenue in Canarsie, is planning to move to the site.

The city presently has two options for the remainder of the site, conveniently located just off the Belt Parkway, which it has been trying to develop for 10 years.

One proposal calls for two additional buildings on the land — a one-story structure on the Flatbush Avenue side of the project the size of a football field and a two-story building on the side of the Mill Basin creek that would allow for multiple tenants and would be roughly the size of two football fields.

The second proposal calls for one building the size of three football fields — perfect for a Walmart.

In addition to the extra commerce, the city promises parking for 427 vehicles, as well as space for 27 bicycles. More than 60 trees will also be planted to beautify the spot.

Forest City Ratner Companies, which is currently building the controversial Barclay’s Center, the future home of the Brooklyn Nets, as well as a proposed 16-tower mini-city containing more than 6,600 units of housing will oversee the development of the project, which is expected to break ground in 2014.

“This area has not only some of the best demographics in the country, but is extremely under-retailed as well,” Andrew Silberfein, executive vice president and director of finance and retail development at Forest City Ratner, said in a statement.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, the lead agency in the project, said the plans are still in its infancy and it was too early to know just who will be moving into the remaining buildings.

But Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Mill Basin), said he’s received assurances that Walmart will not be coming.

“There is not going to be enough shopping center for [a Walmart],” he said. “My conversations with the city led me to believe that they’re hoping for more upscale retail — like a Trader Joe’s — that would be an economic enhancement to the area.”

This is the second time in the last year whispers of Walmart have been heard in Southern Brooklyn. It’s no secret the company wants to move into New York City, and after attempts to open in both Staten Island and Queens were squashed, the company reportedly set its sights on the planned Gateway Shopping Center II, near Starrett City, which would allow the big-box store to move in without government interference.

Representatives of Walmart acknowledge that they want to bring one of their stores to the city, but won’t speculate on where they are looking. All they will say is they haven’t signed any leases.

Critics claim that if a Walmart comes to Brooklyn, it will destroy surrounding communities as it undercuts neighboring businesses. They also claim that Walmart pays employees very low wages, refuse to offer healthcare benefits and thwart any attempt by its workers to unionize.

“In communities across the country, Walmart stores devastate local businesses and destroy more jobs than they create,” said Assemblywoman Inez Barron (D-Canarsie).

Yet Walmart officials refute these arguments, claiming they would be welcomed by Brooklynites — many of whom already shop at the big box chain.

“We know that job creation and access to affordable food are significant needs in the city and we think our stores can be part of the solution,” said Steven Restivo, director of community affairs for Walmart. “At the same time, we know New Yorkers overwhelmingly support Walmart.”

City scoping session on the Four Sparrows Shopping Center at the Kings Plaza Community Room [5100 Kings Plaza at the corner of Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue in Mill Basin (718) 253-6842], Jan. 11 at 7 pm.