May 9, 2019 By Christian Murray (Updated May 10)
The owners of the Key Food property on 31st Street are mystified that supermarket workers and Astoria’s elected officials are holding a rally outside the store Friday accusing them of unfairly pushing the supermarket out of the neighborhood to make way for a Target store.
The rally, put together by Council Member Costa Constantinides and State. Sen. Jessica Ramos, will protest the property owner’s plans to demolish the 22-15 31st St. building to develop a three-story building for Target, arguing that it will put supermarket union workers out on the street.
“Dozens of union jobs are at risk if we allow Key Food on 31st Street to get muscled out of the neighborhood, depriving residents of a community staple that provides quality fresh food,” Constantinides said in announcing the rally scheduled for Friday at 2:45 p.m.
The developer filed plans to demolish the Key Food site and the adjacent building—that houses a bodega, Subway, The Rock Health & Fitness Club, and more– last month. Key Food’s lease ends next year and it has not been renewed.
But Michael Hirschhorn, a representative of the owner Ditmars 31st Street Associates, said that the narrative put forward by the elected officials is not the full story of what has transpired.
He said that the developer has spent 2 ½ years in negotiations with Key Food in an attempt to get the grocery store to come back once the property is developed. He said that they were offering rent that was 25 percent to 30 percent below market rate.
“They have been a good tenant for more than 20 years and I want them to stay,” Hirschhorn said. “We want a supermarket—it’s good for the neighborhood and they are a proven quality operator.”
Key Food’s lease ends in October 2020, at which time the store will be demolished and development will begin. The building will be three stories high, with the top two floors being for Target and the ground floor and lower level dedicated for retail.
Hirschhorn said that the development will take about 18 months and will improve the neighborhood.
He said they have been calling on Key Food to take 25,000 square feet of space in the new building—about the same amount of space the grocery store currently has.
“We came up with a number of layouts, numbers, rate schedules and we were negotiating for 2 ½ years,” Hirschhorn said. “We spent a lot of money on architectural fees trying to get a space that would work for them.”
Hirschhorn said that Key Food walked away from talks three months. He didn’t disclose how much the developer was asking for in rent compared to what Key Food is currently paying.
The lease that Ditmars 31st Street Associates entered into with Target does prevent certain types of supermarkets from opening in the new development, Hirschhorn said. However, he said, that provision applies to “discount” supermarkets and stores such as Key Food, Trader Joe’s and Stop and Shop would not be prevented from opening there.
“Sure there are limitations because of Target, but many can still move in there,” Hirschhorn said. He said that the developer wouldn’t have engaged in negotiations with Key Food and other supermarkets if they couldn’t move in.
Man-Dell Food Stores, which owns the Key Food franchise, could not be reached for comment. However, a spokesperson for the company told Astoria Post last year that it was trying to persuade the developer to pursue a design that would keep the supermarket in place. Last week, the company said it would like to stay there and had been trying to negotiate with the owner.
The developer plans on getting a supermarket in the space despite the lease limitation, Hirschhorn said. The developer has been in discussion with four or five supermarkets since the Key Food negotiations ended, with some of them being union shops.
“They [the protesters] mention the union issue. That is not an issue for us at all,” he said.
Hirschhorn said that the company got calls from elected officials late last year exerting pressure on them to make a deal with Key Food.
“We wanted to make a deal but the numbers have to work for everyone,” he said.
He said that the developer worked out a deal with The Rock, finding the gymnasium space across the street at 22-06 31st St., that the owners are also developing. TJ Maxx is the anchor tenant in that building.
Hirschhorn said that he first heard about the protest through an article in the Astoria Post last week.
He said that he is considering showing up at the rally. “I think people need to know the truth. We want Key Food there; we want a quality grocery store there; and we don’t want to see the loss of union jobs.”
— Costa Constantinides (@Costa4NY) May 6, 2019