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By Alex Rush

July 26, 2011

Opponents of Walmart’s move into Brooklyn are accusing the state of giving a developer a sweetheart deal when it renegotiated the sale of state land the big-box retailer is believed to be eying.

Assemblywoman Inez Barron (D–East New York) — a staunch foe of the superstore — says that the government slashed its price on a 14-acre plot off the Belt Parkway — after the zoning was changed from residential to commercial, which should have increased the value of the land.

Now, Related Companies, which wants to build its Gateway II shopping center on the site, is paying $14.5 million after it had already agreed to pay more than $20 million, according to a Daily News report.

The state attorney general still needs to approve the sale, so Barron wants the comptroller to audit the deal before it’s set in stone.

“I urge you to investigate the deal further before allowing the transfer to go through,” Barron wrote in a June 29 letter.

She also devoted two paragraphs to Walmart, including the line, “If Related plans to bring a Walmart to this development as anticipated in rumored reports, there is cause for concern.”

State officials could not be reached for comment.

But officials at Related insisted that the price is right, claiming the discount is the result of a market downturn and the fact that the higher price tag was part of an entirely different deal that included “state incentives,” according to a Crain’s New York Business report. Related did not return a request for further comment.

But Barron isn’t the only big-box adversary trying to block a deal with Related. Out-of-town union advocates have been crying for months that the $35 million the corporation is paying for the city-owned portion of Gateway II, which at 26 acres, is too low. Josh Kellerman of the Manhattan-based Jobs for Justice argued at a public hearing in April that the land is worth much more and should be reappraised to allow for an even larger retail center — without Walmart.

“Rather than look at all scenarios allowed under the zoning, it only looked at one scenario suggested by Related,” Kellerman said.

And a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Greater New York, a workers’ rights group, told this paper that “if the city of New York is giving a company financial incentives, those incentives should improve the community and create quality jobs. Walmart will do neither.”

But city officials continue to insist that the appraisal is accurate, though the mayor’s office has yet to approve the sale.

Related’s reported plan to house a Walmart in Gateway II has been one of the most controversial topics of the year. Barron and union supporters fume that the non-union Walmart treats workers poorly and shuts down mom-and-pops, and the company has embarked on a massive PR blitz to refute those claims.

Walmart declined to comment on its imminent Brooklyn debut, saying only that “no leases have been signed in the city yet.”

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