Armani Opening Spurs Local Protest
Here's the educational flier that FUREE members handed out during Armani's not-so-grand opening.
Scores of shoppers descended on the former Albee Square Mall on Saturday for the opening of an Armani Exchange store in the first building of the massive City Point development, despite sign-carrying demonstrators protesting that the site’s upscale transformation is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“This isn’t for us. Why would we support something we can’t afford?,” said Farragut Houses resident Nashaun Taylor, 46, one of several protestors with Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, or FUREE. “This store represents gentrification.”
Members of sheet metal workers Local 361 also rallied at the site, complaining that the developers of City Point, Acadia Realty Trust and Washington Square Partners, had not used union labor on the building that opened Saturday and had no plans to change course for Phase II of the project, scheduled for ground breaking in a few weeks.
Some members of the union spent Saturday morning passing out fliers questioning whether Armani had hired local residents to staff the store. Nevertheless, shoppers came out in droves on the brisk November morning for the grand opening, lured to the new ground-floor retail space in part by the promise of $25 gift cards.
But at least one shopper was disappointed. Jo Jo York, 22, from Brownsville, said he had hoped to buy a new winter coat and some other items, but couldn’t find anything in the store for $25. He ended up selling his gift card for $10.
“At least I got something for it,” Mr. York said.
Armani Exchange became the first store to open at the City Point development, which is expected to add nearly 2 million square feet of residential and retail space to downtown Brooklyn over the next few years. The store’s new home, near the intersection of Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue, is City Point’s first building, a 50,000-square-foot, four-story structure with a terracotta facade across from the Dime Savings Bank building.
A Century 21 department store, planned to open by 2015, is expected to occupy most of the space in the newly opened building, City Point spokesman Tom Montvel-Cohen said.
The development of Phase I of the City Point project was spurred by $20 million in tax exempt bonds allocated by the city through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus program signed into law by President Obama in 2009. Phase II of the project, which includes the development of close to 500,000 square feet of retail space and another 500,000 square feet of residential space, is scheduled for completion in December 2015.
Mr. Montvel-Cohen said more than 80 percent of construction jobs on the Phase I building went to workers from Brooklyn, and that more than 50 percent of the contractors used on the project were certified as minority or women-owned businesses. He said Armani worked with the city’s Workforce1 program to “identify a pool of qualified local candidates” to staff the store.
“The goal of local participation is one we take very seriously.” Mr. Montvel-Cohen said. “That’s our commitment both in construction and employment.”
He added that the businesses occupying City Point once Phase II opens would be a mix of national and local retailers. Still, FUREE members called on the developers to provide affordable retail space for local businesses, including some that were displaced when the former Albee Square Mall was sold in 2007 to make way for the new development.
“The people who had businesses here lived around here and put their money back into the neighborhood,” said Maisha Morales, the president of FUREE’s board and the former owner of Gallery Religious Supplies at Albee Square. “Who knows where this money goes?”
Armani did not respond to calls for comment.