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Steve Madden, Which Employs 400, Threatens to Leave Sunnyside if Phipps Development Proceeds

Steve Madden Office at 52-16 Barnett Avenue (Google Maps)

March 9, 2021 By Christian Murray

The fashion shoe company Steve Madden is threatening to leave Sunnyside if the seven story, 167-unit building development planned by Phipps Houses on Barnett Avenue goes up.

Steve Madden, which penned a letter to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer Jan. 14, said that it employs more than 400 people at its 52-16 Barnett Ave. location and it would be forced to relocate if the Phipps development moves forward.

The company says that it rents 120 spaces on the 220-space parking lot where the development is proposed to go. The spaces are used by its personnel and are rented from Phipps. Without the parking spaces for employees, it says it would have to leave.

“Without the public parking lot, Madden will have no reasonable way to maintain its Barnett Avenue presence,” the letter reads.

The letter also notes that its employees help bolster the local economy by patronizing local merchants and eateries.

“In short, Madden and its employees provide substantial economic support for the local community and its retail businesses,” the letter reads.

Phipps needs to get its Barnett Avenue property rezoned in order to develop the site. The application currently rests in the hands of the City Council, having been approved by Community Board 2, the Queens Borough President and the City Planning Commission.

Van Bramer issued a public statement today announcing his support for the project, citing the need for affordable and low-cost housing. He did not address Steve Madden’s concerns in his statement and did not comment for this story.

Steve Madden, however, has done little in the way of outreach to make its concerns known other than the solitary letter to Van Bramer. It did not reach out to Community Board 2 nor did it speak to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards or the City Planning Commission.

The Jan. 14 letter to Van Bramer was also not released publicly but surfaced on social media via the Facebook page Small Town Confidential.

The Queens Post called the attorney representing Steve Madden whose name appeared on the letter. The attorney–Andrew Luskin, of the firm McLaughlin & Stern–confirmed that he wrote it and said the issue was real.

Luskin said that the letter is not just bluster but the issue is a real concern. “They need the parking,” he said.

But Luskin said that the only step taken by Steve Madden to convey its concerns was the letter sent to Van Bramer on Jan. 14. He said as of March 8 he is still waiting for a response.

Luskin, however, said that he had not followed up on the letter. The letter was also written after Community Board 2 voted to approve it and Borough President Richards signed off on the project.

Rendering of Phipps’ current plan for 50-25 Barnett Ave.

Adam Weinstein, CEO and president of Phipps Houses, told the Queens Post yesterday that Steve Madden had not been in contact with him about its parking concerns.

Weinstein said that the new building would contain parking that Steve Madden employees could potentially use.

He said that the new building comes with 170 attended spaces, with 59 set aside for new residents and about 20 for the residents of the existing Phipps Garden Apartments on 39th Avenue who currently use the parking lot. He said that 91 spaces would be available to the public.

“While we’re not committing the operator [of the parking lot] to provide parking to anyone but our own residents, it would seem there’s capacity for members of the public including the Madden folks,” Weinstein said.

Additionally, the 59 spaces set aside for the residents may not be fully utilized–with some potentially available to the public, Weinstein said.

Weinstein said that Steve Madden is not currently using 120 parking spaces on the empty lot–a number cited in the letter. He said the company has an agreement to use about 60 to 80 parking spaces.

“They may have once been licensed [by the parking operator] for that many, but not now.”

Luskin did not expressly say why Steve Madden did not do more outreach to convey its concerns.

He did say that he listened in on the Nov. 18 public hearing held by Community Board 2 on the project but did not speak.

He said that a representative of Steve Madden joined the Dec. 3 online meeting when Community Board 2 voted to approve the plan but was unable to speak. The representative was not blocked by the board in any way, he said, just that they were unable to get through.

He said the company isn’t tapped into local politics so that can partly explain why more was not done. Additionally,”I don’t think my client wanted to adopt a scorched earth approach.”

Lisa Deller, chair of community board 2, said she had heard nothing from Steve Madden. “They never went to a meeting nor did they submit anything.”

“I am surprised that they didn’t share their concerns more widely,” Deller said. “Nobody wants Steve Madden to leave. I’m sure we would have tried to accommodate their needs. I hope they can be accommodated in the new building.”

Phipps Houses plans to develop this Barnett Avenue site, which is currently used for parking (Photo: Queens Post)

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