In June, the Swedish furniture chain Ikea dropped its proposal to build a 300,000 square foot store on 9-acre site in Brooklyn. The defeat is Ikea’s second in the New York region this year. In February, organized opposition from small business owners and residents forced Ikea to back out of plans to open a store in New Rochelle.
The Brooklyn site is located near Gowanus Canal in a predominantly residential neighborhood. Once the location of a coal transfer station, the land is currently owned by the US Postal Service. A developer, Forest City Ratner, has an option to buy the site and has been negotiating with Ikea for several months.
Community opposition erupted in March when the project first surfaced publicly. Neighborhood residents were joined by several community organizations, including Care About The Slope, the Fifth Avenue Committee, and Gowanus Canal Community Development, in fighting the store. The neighborhood’s elected representatives—Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Assembly member Jim Brennan, and City Councilor Stephen DiBrienza—were also outspoken.
Opponents focused on the traffic and environmental impacts of a store so large its customers would be given maps at the door. A study by Community Consulting Services found that the development would draw shoppers from a 20-mile radius, bringing more than 3 million additional vehicles to Brooklyn each year. The direct impact of the added traffic would be $9.1 million in lost productivity due to congestion; $7.4 million in additional traffic accidents; $3.2 million in air and noise pollution costs; and $1 million in damage to public infrastructure and private vehicles.
Like most retailers in similar situations, Ikea denied that its decision to drop the project had anything to do with neighborhood opposition. Ikea currently operates 15 stores in the U.S., including a 227,000 square foot store in Hicksville on Long Island and a 400,000 square foot store in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The corporation continues to seek locations within New York City and has identified two sites in Queens and the Bronx. This time around, Ikea plans to conduct its own impact studies to counter those commissioned by community groups.
Meanwhile, the fight in Brooklyn may not be over. The developer reports that it is close to a deal with another single-use tenant, but will not reveal the tenant. Any big box store would have a similar impact on traffic, the environment, and the neighborhood. Some residents have argued that the site should be used for housing or non-retail commercial development. A previous plan to build a 22-screen movie theater with chain restaurants and shops also encountered neighborhood opposition and was abandoned.