Some members of the Clinton Special District Coalition (CSDC), comprising resident Hell's Kitchen activists, have expressed concern about the Manhattan openings planned by Costco, the 225-store strong chain of consumer warehouse outlets. Costco plans to open Manhattan stores including one on West 55th Street at Tenth Avenue, which could have an impact on traffic patterns affecting the greater theatre district.
In any case, a store of this size is expected to have a significant impact on the city, on a number of levels.
The CSDC typically objects to development projects that it believes will bring in additional traffic and congestion to the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, thus affecting the quality of residential life there. Most recently, CSDC has been fighting the transfer of theatre air rights while questioning certain assumptions made in connection with the establishment of the Broadway Initiative.
Costco is a largely suburban membership outlet chain that sells bulk quantity household goods and food products. Costco stores are typically warehouses where members roll outsized shopping carts through the store, shopping for electronics items, bulk quantities baked goods, cheeses, paper products, soaps, cleaning supplies, toiletries and so on. At the checkout, purchases are scanned and placed directly back into the cart, which is the only handling or packing offered. The member then rolls the unbagged purchases out to a car.
Costco plans a full size store in Harlem with construction starting in January 2000. Smaller versions of its stores, called Costco Fresh, which would offer items more appropriate for Manhattan consumers, are expected to be built on the site of the former 14th Street Armory and at West 55th Street and Tenth Avenue. Earlier reports indicate that no parking is planned for the Costco Fresh stores. This raises logistical questions given the nature of a bulk shopping store, and has opponents focusing on what has been called an attempt to circumvent the land use review procedures that a parking development would require.
At 70,000 square feet, the estimated size of the Costco Fresh stores, opponents say the large stores would draw huge crowds of discount buyers whose transportation needs would significantly affect the residents, theatres and other businesses in and nearby the greater theatre district.
Richard Lipsky Associates, Inc., a legislative and public relations consulting firm representing the Food and Commercial Workers Union has released a report critical of the plan. The Lipsky memo, made public on Hell's Kitchen Online by John Fisher, who also happens to be CSDC's spokesperson, stated that the proposed West Side site is "right in the middle of one of the major commuter access routes to the West Side Highway.
"On this site," the report reads, "the chain plans to take advantage of a zoning loophole by building a 70-80,000 sq. ft. store “below grade”. The loophole allows a developer to avoid land use review if the store is not directly on street level. No city planner can rationally explain how building below grade reduces to any extent the environmental impact of a project. But the loophole does exist and Costco plans to take advantage of it and leave the neighborhoods of Chelsea/Clinton to deal with the traffic nightmare the store will inevitably cause. In addition, just as it is doing on 14th Street, Costco will not provide parking. The provision of accessory parking will trigger an environmental review that the chain desperately wants to avoid since this impacted community would vigorously fight the store at this inappropriate location."
"While the focus has really been on the Chelsea location, " explained CSDC's John Fisher, "there has been mention of one on the Lower East Side and on 55th Street and Tenth. The most important thing is the traffic. When you buy bulk, you end up bringing a car or something like that. People are not going to be going home carrying No. 10 bottles of Ketchup." Fisher cited other development projects that were of concern to his group including the Gotham luxury apartment complex, River Centre, the Trump development and the new building planned on the site of the Coliseum, all of which will have what Fisher calls a "tremendous impact" on his neighborhood and the nearly theatre district.
-- By Murdoch McBride