Bloomberg Endorses 2,300-Car Big Box Garage for West Side

brooklyn_costco.jpgThe Observer reported last week that Extell Development wants to lease an underground chunk of its huge West Side project to big box retailer Costco. Included in the plan: 2,300 parking spaces. To put that in perspective, the Red Hook Ikea, projected to yield 17,000 car trips on peak days, makes do with a 1,400-car parking lot. The building where Extell wants to put the Costco and the garage will be mostly residential. No matter how many spaces are set aside for residents or shoppers, the inclusion of so much parking flies in the face of the city’s stated goal to reduce traffic.

Nevertheless, Mayor Bloomberg has come out in favor of the Costco, the Sun reports:

At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Bloomberg said bringing the
big-box warehouse chain to the city would help New Yorkers weather a
difficult economic downturn. "Costco has a reputation of selling in
bulk at very low prices, and given the economy today and the public’s
desire to buy things in bulk and buy them cheaper, it seems to me we
should welcome any store that wants to come here," he said.

In light of the Mayor’s own congestion reduction efforts, the endorsement makes little sense:

A spokesman for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, Richard Lipsky,
said the Costco store would run counter to another administration
priority: reducing traffic.

"It is incongruous for the mayor, who supported congestion pricing,
to support one of the most auto-dependent retailers in the country,"
Mr. Lipsky said.

Photo of Costco parking lot in Brooklyn: MaxKalehoff/Flickr

  • Manhattan and Costco don’t mix. You cannot buy in bulk if you’re a middle to lower class manhattan resident. There is no room in the small apartments, and driving in Manhattan incurs tons of expenditures, never mind the over crowding. The automobile doesn’t fit in manhattan, and neither does buying in bulk.

  • Larry Littlefield

    In Bloomberg and Costco’s defense, I wonder how many Manhattan residents drive elsewhere to go to Costco. No way anyone is going to drive from elsewhere TO Manhattan to go to Costco.

    Recall also that Costco does a big wholesale business servicing small businesses such as restaurants, offices and small stores. (That, of course, will bring out another set of opponents).

  • Car Free Nation

    Costco perpetuates the myth that you can save money through buying in bulk. But such savings quickly disappear if you factor in 1) the use of a car to carry the stuff, 2) the waste when you order more than you need, and 3) the occasional impulse buy of something that doesn’t look so big in the store, but actually ends up taking a lot of space in your refrigerator.
    Because of this myth of savings, people who might otherwise get rid of their car, feel that they need it to “save” money, and ease the schlep when purchasing huge vats of extra virgin olive oil at Costco.

  • This store doesn’t need a 2300-car lot. It needs a loading dock for outgoing truck deliveries. True, increased truck traffic has a downside, but the upside is that a few trucks would replace 2300 cars.

    Also, it is not inconceivable that able-bodied people making purchases small enough to carry would walk or use transit. I carry stuff home on the bus all the time. If it’s too big to carry, I have it delivered.

  • Bloomberg never met a big business he didn’t like.

    Also, if you’ve got a car and you’re driving to Costco, you can already do so outside of the dense core of Manhattan. The picture above is from a Costco only a 30-minute drive from where they want to put this new one.

  • Okay, this is a disaster. Big box retail is totally incompatible with urban environments. Especially a store like Costco, which is meant for big families who buy big stuff in bulk, and then load it all into their big SUVs and store it in their big suburban homes.

    There should be one location in each city for stores like Costco and Home Depot — the warehouse district.

    On the other hand, there are some big retail stores that can work well on urban streets, with proper building design. Market Street in San Francisco has several (Ross, Old Navy, etc) located in old-style department store buildings.

  • Sam

    @ DianaD,

    Actually lots of businesses, especially restaurants shop at Costco.

    I myself understand the opposition to Costco but I really don’t think it is detrimental to the community in the same way as other big box stores. They actually treat their workers quite well which is rare in this day and age. I think the power of decent jobs to uplift lower class families wins out here.

  • fred

    Streetsblog – Haven’t you figured out Bloomberg is full of it? Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t care about non-rich or small businesses.

  • I’m not convinced that the Costco is necessarily a bad idea. I could get a lot of shopping done with a 2 hour Zipcar rental or a $25 cab ride, you don’t need to OWN a car to shop there. And as I saw mentioned on Gothamist, as a well-run business, Costco can be expected to tailor their product offerings (maybe they’ll offer delivery as well) to NYC like Home Depot or Bed Bath and Beyond have done. As Larry points out, plenty of people drive from NYC to Costco in other places; in that case, you HAVE to use your own car, but this makes the same benefits available to those of us who don’t have one. I mean, Costco sells a lot of stuff at a discount, it’s not just giant vats of olive oil and packages of 40 rolls of paper towels. My folks in NJ just recently bought a new TV at Costco for instance – people in NYC buy TVs like everyone else, why shouldn’t we be able to get them for less money like my parents did?

    *deep breath* Sorry, that went on forever.

    I agree that that’s WAY too much parking though.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There should be one location in each city for stores like Costco and Home Depot — the warehouse district.”

    Costcos are not permitted in New York’s warehouse districts. Home Depots are, but only as a result of an inadvertant omission in 1974.

  • Ace

    more suburban-mall sensibilities imported into what should be-used to be the most urban place on earth

  • I’m sorry, but absent the big parking lot (which I believe is mostly for the apartment dwellers, not Costco shoppers), I think this would be a big asset to Manhattan. In essence, a store like this would be competing with Gristede’s, Met Foods, Associated, Food Emporium and other grocery stores that charge way too much for their food. This Costco would only be a few blocks away from the Amsterdam Houses; think those people would appreciate paying lower prices for their weekly grocery bill.

    I grant that the parking lot seems a bit too much, and I would want to see it cut back. Indeed, much like the Home Depots that opened a few years ago, Costco could arrange for delivery (which practically every other grocery store in the city offers now). In the end, this store would bring some benefits that city dwellers and suburbanites are now forced to drive to into a part of the city that would be easily accessible through public transportation (the M57 bus will probably be extended over to Riverside South once the apartment towers are completed).

    The congestion complaints are valid. What is not is depriving New Yorkers of a chance to save on food bills. Don’t think we should be defending bodegas and high-priced grocery stores here.

  • JK

    Problem here is that Costco’s business model is based on car trips. There is no setting aside parking. Just like there is no setting aside parking for IKEA. Local businesses using Costco don’t need 2500 or even 500 parking spots for their vans or small trucks. When you build parking, you induce car trips. How much do you want to bet that Costco’s parking assumption is based on free parking? This makes a mockery out of DOT’s efforts to peak hour price meters on retail strips. When you build for cars, you get cars. This is poor planning.

  • momos

    Costco and NYC Dept of Planning need to set a target of something like 90% of shoppers using modes other than a personal vehicle. That means carefully thinking about buses, delivery, and CAR SHARING. Put a Zipcar station there.

    Adapting big box stores to NYC’s urban fabric is a challenge City Planning has to address. They can’t just ask for more bushes and plants in the parking lot. They need to fundamentally address the car trips, parking lots, blank walls and dead pedestrian space inherent to bix box retailing.

    And one more thing. Retailing jobs are low quality. If the city expended half their effort at appeasing big box chains (Home Depot, Ikea, Costco, etc) instead on retaining and growing manufacturing (Brooklyn Brewery, garments, furniture), working class New Yorkers would stand half a chance at living a decent life.

  • a.v.

    I gotta say, I’m frustrated that there are so few options in the city for buying decent, inexpensive groceries. I mean, even the lowbrow Safeways of suburbia, to say nothing of the upscale chains, blow our grimy, wilted supermarkets away in terms of selection and cost. Does it have to be this way? I do most of my shopping at Fairway in Red Hook (using either a zip car or car service) but it’s a production I can only go through once every two weeks. It’s by far the best we’ve got, but it’s not as convenient or as user friendly as, say, a good Wegman’s. Whole Foods is fine, but pricey. Is it too much to ask that we get some clean, affordable supermarkets here?

    As far as Costco goes, it’s not the occasional car trips across town for a bulk shopping spree that are the problem. This could in fact cut down on longer car trips that people who like to shop at Costco would take anyway. Hauling stuff we intend to consume is a reasonably good purpose for cars — much better than commuting. Let’s focus on reducing utterly unnecessary car trips before we start worrying about semi-necessary ones.

  • Sam

    @ MOMOS

    Costco is not like other retailers. Do not mistake it for Wal-Mart. Google costco and workers and you get results like this:

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Business/story?id=1362779
    http://www.laborresearch.org/print.php?id=391
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/17/business/yourmoney/17costco.html

    While I agree NYC really needs to stop hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs and bringing more of them back to the city (which may happen as the cost of gas increases the cost of shipping) Costco is not like other retailers and fairly compensates its employees. In my view, Costco is like old manufacturing in that it provides jobs that are low skilled, decent paying, unionized (somewhat) and offer an ability to advance. Costco can do a lot for a community vis a vis generational class improvement. Unfortunately it is rare that a company puts its workers before its employees but Costco does just that.

    That’s not to say they shouldn’t try to encourage alternatives to driving there…

    @Josh

    I like the zip car idea!

  • Sam

    Uh that line up there was supposed to say “..a company puts its workers before its SHAREHOLDERS”

    Whoops….

  • momos

    @ SAM

    You’re right, Costco is definitely the best of the bix box retailers in terms of paying its employees well. I should have been more clear.

    My complaint is more general. There’s been a trend of promoting retailing as economic development. The problem is these jobs center on consumption. Industrial jobs centering on production pay much better. We need to stop accepting low-quality consumption jobs as economic development deserving of public sector support.

    Promote industrial production jobs and the retailing consumption jobs will follow. This is the formula that will maintain a strong middle class and healthy wealth distribution, instead of huge money piled at the top end, a hollowed out middle, and a vast number of people in poverty standing behind the counters of the retail playgrounds of the rich.

    All of that said, I’d much rather have a Costco than a Wal Mart.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “My complaint is more general. There’s been a trend of promoting retailing as economic development. The problem is these jobs center on consumption. Industrial jobs centering on production pay much better.”

    Remember that while at City Planning, I was one of the “they.” We had a million people on welfare. They needed entry level jobs. And the data showed that city residents, in droves, were driving to the suburbs, which were keeping the jobs and tax revenues, to shop. Even for food!

    The recovery of New York’s “local” consumer economy, as opposed for the Manhattan-based portion of its economy that produces for global markets (which recovered in the 1980s), is a huge success — especially in the outer boroughs. It has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands, and cut VMT.

    Production vs. consumption? You sound like those Dinkins-era analysts who looked across industries and decided finance wasn’t good because it only provided jobs for the rich, and retail wasn’t good because the wages wasn’t high enough. So what was the one industry those folks thought worth promoting? The diamond industry. Yep, high wage skilled jobs, that will promotes equality. But if everyone is equal, who is going to buy enough diamonds to employ 4 million diamond workers?

  • one step forward. two steps backward.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One more point — there are plenty of people in this city who are against virtually all new businesses and new development. Some of these are snobs and bigots. But if you probe more closely what people are against isn’t the buildings, people or businesses, it’s the traffic — especially if they are also drivers.

    So the problem isn’t Costco per se. The question I asked is once again (and they’ll know this specifically) how many Manhattan residents and businesses patronize their other stores?

  • JK

    Who cares if Costco is the most wonderful company in the country? The point is they (or the developer) are building 2,500 free parking spots into the cost of this development, the cost of which will be bundled into the cost of every item purchased there. It is highly speculative and not demonstrated that building car dependent big boxes within the five boroughs has produced a net reduction in driving. This supposition flies in the face of exhaustive research, you can start with Don Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking, which includes hundreds of citations substantiating that “free” parking induces driving. Free parking induces driving, just like free road expansions do. If the developer/Costco wants to bundle transportation costs into their development, they can build a modicum of pay parking ( a couple hundred spots) and use that to subsidize reduced price delivery and shuttle vans. New York City should compete with the suburbs by playing to its strengths, which is walkability, transit and access. Building these mega developments in car dependent locations is utterly contradictory to what makes NYC great.

  • Problem here is that Costco’s business model is based on car trips. There is no setting aside parking. Just like there is no setting aside parking for IKEA.

    Home Depot managed to set aside parking. If they can do it, anyone can.

  • gecko

    if we do better than cars they would not need parking lots. ferries are a step in the right direction and there are other options.

  • rhubarbpie

    JK in comment #21 is exactly on point. Costco may be the best of the lot (and from what I’ve read elsewhere, it is), but that’s no excuse for 2,500 parking spaces. I’m not sure it’s an excuse for 100 parking spaces.

    And dchadwick (#4) is also right: Bloomberg ran a big business and that’s where his sympathies lie, as seen over and over again. The mayor argues that we need stores like Costco to weather the coming storm, but even if that’s true, he forgets that the storm will end and we’ll be left with a big-box store with 2,500 parking spaces!

    Larry’s comment in #18 about city residents driving out of town to get groceries is also accurate, though things have changed since the Dinkins era, and there have been some gains in the quality and availability of food here (though the East Side and many poorer neighborhoods are seriously under-served). My own sense (from people I knew who used to shop in New Jersey and Westchester) is that many folks who drive to shop out of town do so in part to justify having the car in the first place. In the end, some of them realized that having the car wasn’t worth the hassle — or the cost.

    (By the way, Larry, our city’s dependence on the finance industry is a very mixed blessing, as we’ll see over the next several years.)

    So the question is really about what makes a better city. Is it big box stores that sell cheaper food in bulk and bring in some service jobs but attract heavy automobile use and make it tougher for smaller businesses to survive? (This is not to defend the grocery industry in New York City — it’s one of the poorest run, least imaginative around.)

    Or should the city work to improve neighborhoods, including fostering the availability of good and reasonably priced food (harder to do, but possibly creating as many jobs if not more)? How can that be done?

    I came to this city a quarter-century ago in large part because you could get everything you needed within a few blocks. It’s a tremendous attraction to many of us. I know that’s not the case in every neighborhood, but it will be less so as more and more big-box stores arrive.

    At the same time, I wouldn’t oppose a Costco in a location unlikely to generate significantly more traffic and without the parking spaces. While the Costco model requires autos, as JK points out, maybe they can think imaginatively and dump the parking lot. Until then, opposing their entry in the city is worth the fight.

  • mfs

    I was surprised that UFCW is opposed to this- they have liked costco in the past.

  • Jonathan

    2300 parking spots for (non-surge) parking off the West Side Highway is tough. But don’t be so surprised. He also seems to support providing 4,000 spots for the Atlantic Yards arena at the most congested intersection in Brooklyn in an historic residential neighborhood.

  • Once again this just cries out for rentable bike trailers. Or how about Workman utility bikeshare? If we could pedal over to Costco that would do away with half the problems.

  • rhubarbpie, you ask a great question about whether and how the city should foster the availability of good and reasonably priced food. How about providing low-cost leases in city-owned buildings for member-owned-and-operated Food Coops? The Park Slope Food Coop has been incredibly successful doing just that, with more than 13,000 members and great quality natural and organic food at very competitive prices.

    The fact that the Coop bought its building back when it was affordable contributes significantly to its ability to keep prices low. So the city could substitute for the market (our “leaders” are willing to throw hundreds of millions, if not billions, of taxpayer funds at sports stadia, so why not Food Coops?). More Coops are springing up, but the real estate is the main barrier to entry.

    The city could seed Food Coops into many communities. Having a local Coop would obviate the need for a car, too, and the prices would likely match or beat Costco’s.

    Speaking of which, Car Free Nation, you are so right about the danger of the foolish impulse buy at Costco. Three years ago, my mayonnaise-loving wife thought that it would be a good idea to buy one of those industrial-sized jars of Hellman’s. Were finally a tuna-salad sandwich or two away from finishing it, at which point I may actually be able to fit some new stuff into the fridge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Speaking of which, Car Free Nation, you are so right about the danger of the foolish impulse buy at Costco. Three years ago, my mayonnaise-loving wife…”

    The danger of the impulse buy of unneeded crap is not just true of shopping at Costco. It’s true of shopping in general. But for those who insist on doing it, better to do it in NYC than outside.

    Having one type of job in the city does not prevent other types, and trying to get rid of certain types of jobs doesn’t make others thought to be more desirable magically appear. Someone has to save the money and borrow more, put it in a business that is likely to fail, and start signing paychecks.

    Getting back to the food supply issue, ask the question why the FreshDirect concept is starting out in California and not NY, and why a similar concept was not developed here? Because NY is run by those with existing privileges, to the exclusion of new entrants, in government and in business.

    Do you really think existing players would stand for having the city divert tax dollars from other services to subusize competition, even “non-profit” competition? Wouldn’t Lipsky be able to stuff that? How about just allowing such competition?

    I guess he couldn’t stop all the super drugstores, and they are overbuilt enough that storefronts of that size might become available, but still…

  • Ace

    just add “neighborhood” to each:

    meat=butcher
    fish=fish monger
    produce=fruit/vegetable stand/store
    quick sundries=bodega
    other stuff=local supermarket

  • Angus is dead-on. The city has had big-box stores since the 1800s. Look at AT Stewart (1846), Wannamakers, and Macy’s (1853). They were located in transit friendly locations and people walked or took transit to them. Recently, Home Depot has continued the tradition with two very large Manhattan stores with no parking. If any of those store were build at the proposed Costco location, they’d have failed miserably. While the automobile has opened up those areas to development, what is the price you pay for that development. Is the slightly cheaper groceries worth the extra traffic and pollution? Could the land for parking be put to better use? Could we get the developer to make the area more transit friendly before building?

    If the administration is serious about reducing traffic and making NYC greener, it must show us with actions: Allow big box stores only in transit friendly locations or force developers to make an area transit friendly before building. Why can’t we have both development and efficiency? Thats how it’s always been here. When gas hits $12/gallon the 2,500 spaces are going to sit vacant or turn into long-term storage.

    Why is is so hard for politicians to look past two years from now?

  • Costco is NOT a grocery store. Most of the food there is meant to feed a party of 10 or more. Again, I just don’t see how Costco’s business model fits with Manhattan’s urban lifestyle. If there is a need for more grocery stores in NYC, then the goal should be to get more real neighborhood grocers. This Costco is a step in the opposite direction.

  • Dave

    Costco is the natural evolution of grocery shopping in NY…poor neighborhoods have the way-overpriced bodegas, other neighborhoods have the overpriced local supermarkets, (D’Ags, Gristede’s etc) and finally you have the bog box stores offering lower prices.

    And why do those of you attacking Costco not attack FreshDirect who use the streets as a warehouse (causing congestion and noise when their truck is double-parked across the street) and under-cutting the local grocery store as well.

    Costco will be a benefit for the city and might make those sad excuses for supermarkets shape up their act. Wal-Mart where are you? We need you to compete with Duane Reade, Walgreens and the other dirty, overpriced and cramped local stores.

  • JK

    Dave there was a big thread on Fresh Direct and its trucks. The comments here about subsidizing or promoting food coops and green markets were good ones. Make me wonder even more why this Costco is so badly needed that it’s 2500 parking spots trump sensible planning. Lots of people seem to make the argument that they want cheap stuff and therefore its a good idea. That’s problematic. Maybe one of the costs of living in a dense urban area like NYC is that cheap bulk shopping is not as convenient as the suburbs. In the same way that having convenient parking for a car (or having a car) is not convenient. There are a lot of questionable assertions which suggest that this Costco will somehow compete with crappy bodegas. (Yes, all those motorists will drive to Costco instead of the crappy bodega. Huh?) There are more and more good grocery options in NYC which do not require a car. The Upper West Side has two Fairways, both of which deliver and both of which are cheaper than D’Ags. No this Costco is more about Costco than anything else. Lots of comments have pointed out how Home Depot and other big boxes have shown they can do NYC without lots of parking. Costco should too.

  • Curbed linked to this West Side Spirit report that Extell will not go ahead with plans for the Costco. That’s 500 parking spaces down, 1,800 to go.

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