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Wal-Mart eyes Brooklyn site, again - Sale of Albee Square Mall sparks new round of questions

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Look out, Target. Rumors are again circulating that Wal-Mart is looking at the Albee Square Mall site to anchor Fulton Street. The rumors come as the Albee Square Mall is in the process of being sold for a mixed-use residential, commercial and retail development. The property is divided into two parts. The retail Gallery is part of the Fulton Street Mall where Dekalb Avenue and Fulton Street intersect, and the property extends as a parking lot at Willoughby Street just off Flatbush Avenue. “The negotiations are not yet complete, but we’re confident the mixed-use development will serve as a tremendous boost to Downtown Brooklyn,” said the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) spokesperson Andrew Brent. The city owns the land beneath the site and developer Joe Sitt of Thor Equities bought the lease for the development above the land in 2001 for a reported $25 million. Sources confirmed the deal is between Sitt and a partnership between PA Associates/Acadia Realty Trust and Avalon Properties. Thor Equities spokesperson Lee Silberstein declined comment on the pending transaction. However, Sitt bristled at the notion he is “flipping” the site for a major profit as reported in the New York Sun. “I’m not saying we have a deal with anybody yet, but we bought that asset five, six years ago. We did what we said we were going to do. We redeveloped it. Brought in some great tenants and upgraded the mall. Everyone in the neighborhood has been happy. We’ve gotten good reviews,” said Sitt. “In real estate technology that’s what we do for a living. We buy, we fix, we build and eventually we have to sell so we can return the profits to our investors,” he added. According to the Sun story, the new development would contain more than 800 apartments, 20 percent of which would be for “affordable housing,” along with about 100,000 square feet of office space, and 500,000 square feet of retail space designed for an anchor tenant. However, Brent said the exact make-up is still being worked out. It will include some affordable housing as a component, he said. The deal comes about two years after the city rezoned downtown Brooklyn, anticipating it could become an even bigger commercial hub. However, with the market constantly fluctuating there have not yet been the inquiries the city had hoped for in regard to commercial activity. Thus the city is adjusting to the market, according to Brent. “What we’re seeing is the natural growth of a bustling, mixed-use area where a variety of office tenants amid residences and new retail amenities may be more attractive than block-sized office towers with single corporations,” he said. Wal-Mart’s entrance comes into the picture be-cause it would include a large as-of-right space with ample parking. Brent said the city has not had any talks with Wal-Mart concerning the deal. But one source very familiar with the Downtown Brooklyn retail environment said there is still a huge demand for retail in the area. “If you did the demographics for the northern half of Brooklyn you’ll see a reservoir for disposable income for retail even with the Target here,” said the source. Wal-Mart senior manager for community affairs Philip Serghini said it is the company’s policy to not comment on speculation regarding any sites until a formal agreement is in place. “We remain very interested in entering the New York City market and are actively reviewing potential sites in all five boroughs,” said Serghini. “Recent surveys show that a majority of New Yorkers want a Wal-Mart in their community,” he said. But Pete Sikora of the organization Wal-Mart No Way said if the company thinks it will come to the site, “they’ll have one heck of a fight on their hands.” “That [Wal-Mart coming] would be a disaster for Downtown Brooklyn,” said Sikora, who lives in Park Slope. Sikora said while Brooklyn is rapidly developing it needs good jobs that include union wages and solid health insurance for workers.

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