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2001-02-03
New Rochelle, NY.IKEA Stuffed Back in Their Box

Residents of New Rochelle, New York disassembled a large furniture-in-a-box retailer this week, and built instead a major victory against suburban retail sprawl when they sent the Swedish IKEA company packing. I spoke against this project back in June of 2000, at the invitation of Westchester Residents Against IKEA Now (WRAIN). IKEA proposed to level 14 acres of houses and businesses in the City Park neighborhood of New Rochelle. The move so alarmed the neighboring city of Mamaroneck that the latter passed a special ordinance trying to control such projects outside their borders. IKEA promised that by razing 34 homes, 2 churches and a variety of small businesses, that they could bring 350 to 500 jobs to New Rochelle, plus $50 million in furniture sales. To help the furniture company knock down the neighbors, the Mayor of New Rochelle, Tim Idoni, was willing to declare the whole area "blighted" and take properties by eminent domain. (see 6/3/00 and 3/5/00 newsflashes below). This week, however, the furniture deal collapsed back into its box. In a press release titled "The Mayor and IKEA Agree to End Store Siting Effort in New Rochelle", the city announced on January 31st, that "IKEA's Revised Plan Fails to Meet IKEA's Business Objectives and City's Development Standards." The Mayor said that IKEA would no longer pursue its proposal to build a store in the Fifth Avenue Redevelopment Area."During lengthy meetings between IKEA and City officials, we have jointly and amicably concluded that the proposed IKEA project is not in our mutual best interests," the Mayor's Press Release said. IKEA had attempted to respond to 14 changes the Mayor asked for in the project, but their revised plan did not respond to issues over the store size, which IKEA wanted to increase. The revised IKEA plan included residential apartments, the relocation of businesses and homes on site, an increase in parking facilities and a streetscape of Fifth Avenue, explained the New Rochelle IKEA Project Manager, Jim Gdula. "Although we stand by our initial findings, after careful consideration, we believe the only way to address the issue of traffic to the satisfaction of the community is with the addition of exit ramps at Exit 17.However, to justify the expense of the ramps, we would need to increase the size of our store to generate the additional revenue required to rationalize this expense. Clearly, a larger store runs counter to the wishes of Mayor Idoni and others in the community," Gdula admitted. "In addition, it is our understanding that approval for the ramps is a lengthy, uncertain and complicated process. As a result of these issues, it is our assessment that a store consistent with our business objectives cannot be built. After extensive discussions with the Mayor, we have mutually agreed not to proceed with our plans for the store...When IKEA began to explore the possibility of a store in New Rochelle, we saw it as a mutually beneficial opportunity for us and the City of New Rochelle. We would have an excellent location for our store while the City would revitalize a neighborhood and receive a significant boost in tax revenues," Gdula said. "However, IKEA has unintentionally assumed a role in the community that is inconsistent with who we are." "IKEA remains committed to the residents and businesses in the redevelopment area. IKEA will continue to work to ensure that they are treated fairly, and the area is revitalized in a manner that is consistent with the City's plans for redevelopment," Gdula concluded. "The main goal of the City continues to be to revitalize the area, and to develop it in a manner consistent with sound planning and our economic goals. We are committed to redeveloping a blighted area of New Rochelle," added Mayor Idoni.

What you can do: It took WRAIN and area residents more than a year to kill this project.Although the Mayor and IKEA found the plan mutually agreeable, they never had local residents in the box. Opposition continued to grow over the months, and IKEA clearly balked at the idea of having to pay for major roadwork, which might be snagged during a long state approval process. WRAIN was angered that the City was willing to take their properties by eminent domain. Residents have complained earlier about New Rochelle's corporate giveways to companies like Home Depot, which got special tax breaks to locate in the city. One columnist referred to such sweetheart deals as "an unholy alliance of big business and government." WRAIN said the IKEA store came at too high a price: 160 people driven from their homes, 378 local jobs lost, 2 churches torn down, and 5,500 cars daily. They said that "IKEA is a bad idea", but city officials were slow to respond. IKEA found itself "unintentionally" the object of derision in the newspaper. Put simply, the Mayor and IKEA mutually underestimated the strength of local residents committed to stopping this overstuffed retail project. A fitting end for a bad idea. And what can you say about the Mayor's political future beyond IKEA?










 
 
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