Testimony to the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises
RE: Redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory
November 17, 2009
Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to thank Council Member Tony Avella, chairperson of this subcommittee, for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this important issue, the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory and the associated land use actions required for that development to take place.
Since I became borough president in May, the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory has been the preeminent issue on my office’s agenda. Through numerous meetings, hearings, and other outreach with the community, with Bronx elected officials and even with the project’s selected developer, I have heard all sides of the argument on this issue.
Throughout this process, the Bronx community has raised a number of legitimate concerns about this project. Just today, critics of the project have issued a study indicating that the traffic impact of the proposed retail center will be far greater than the Related Cos. have previously indicated.
But even before that, a number of other serious issues have been brought up regarding this project. The developer stands to benefit from tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks, tax breaks that have never been available to existing businesses in the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood. Despite this taxpayer-funded largesse, the developer will not agree to prevent new businesses that will directly compete with existing stores, such as a supermarket, from becoming tenants in the Kingsbridge Armory. I do not think it is appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to force companies out of business, especially when many of those companies stood by the Bronx during its darkest days.
The development’s traffic impact and the effect it will have on surrounding businesses are both important issues, as are the inclusion of community space within the project and the ability of the future employees at the retail center to join a union without fear of reprisal from their employers. But more than anything else, I have made it crystal clear throughout this process that I could not and would not support this development unless a strong community benefits agreement, one that included a living wage provision, was agreed to by the Related Cos.
Our living wage requirement simply asks that the future tenants of the Kingsbridge Armory pay their employees $10 an hour with benefits, or slightly more when benefits are not included. The developer did make an effort to hear our concerns on this issue, and I thank them for listening.
One possible solution to the living wage issue was outlined in a memo sent to myself and the Bronx City Council delegation earlier this month. However, it has been brought to our attention by representatives of the Related Cos. that the Bloomberg administration stands in opposition to the implementation of any living wage proposal.
Since the developer has stated that they are co-applicants with the City, and since the City is against a living wage provision, this creates an obstacle that has yet to be overcome. In addition, the City’s representatives, particularly Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber, have stated that the City will not look favorably on any community benefits agreement.
When billionaire developers are accepting tens of millions of dollars in tax benefits to build in our communities, it is not a radical idea to ask that the jobs they create be good jobs, jobs that offer Bronxites a chance to better themselves and provide for their families. As recent statistics from the Census Bureau indicate, the Bronx has the highest poverty rate of any urban county in the United States. It is time to demand that developers do better.
New jobs have been created in the Bronx, but they are typically part-time in nature, and are not the kinds of jobs that can pull Bronxites out of poverty. We must lead the way in creating a new paradigm for job development. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to see new jobs created in my borough. But these jobs must be created in the right way. The old model, that any job is better than no job, is no longer acceptable.
Without a community benefits agreement, including a living wage provision, I am unable to support this project, and I would urge that the members of this subcommittee vote against this project as well. If the developer is willing to change its mind on these issues in the future, I would be willing to change my mind and support this plan. Until that time, as I previously stated in my ULURP recommendation and to the members of the City Planning Commission, I must say no to this development. For the good of the Bronx, I hope you will join me.