Friday, September 4, 2009

UPDATED No to Related's Armory Deal: Diaz

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced that the current deal for the sale of the long-defunct Kingsbridge Armory, pictured above during a tour for a reporter, doesn't meet with his approval as it now stands. Karsten Moran // Riverdale Press photo

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced earlier this morning that he has formally told the City Planning Commission he thinks the sale of the Kingsbridge Armory to the Related Companies should not happen.

Mr. Diaz said he could not recommend approval of the sale of the Kingsbridge Armory to the Related Companies unless the developer signs a community benefits agreement. Related seeks to turn the 600,000-square-foot, long-vacant, historic armory into a mall. The developer would build a multi-story structure inside the Armory shell to create a grand total of about 800,000 square feet of available space, including a movie theater and a parking garage. The city has offered Related a low sale price — $5 million — and about $20 million in tax breaks. Related says the whole project would cost about $324 million to complete.

"We’re hopeful that they will come to the table, but as of now we’re not satisfied," said Mr. Diaz's spokesman, John DeSio. "We don’t have a CBA yet, we want to have a CBA before we approve this."

In a statement, Related spokeswoman Joanna Rose said the company is unwilling to consider commitments that would make the project non-viable. Related believes a living wage provision — which would, one way or another, compel tenants at the Armory to pay employees at least $10 with benefits or $11.50 without — is such a commitment.

"While the Armory's redevelopment will, in fact, generate significant benefits for the community - a point underscored by Community Board 7's overwhelming approval - the fact of the matter is that several of the proposed 'CBA principles' would render this project completely unbuildable and unfinanceable for Related or any other developer," the Related statement read. "While we recognize that many of these requests may come from sincere and good motives, they lack any comprehension of the realities of development within the current economic climate and would directly impact the project's viability and jeopardize its 1,000 new union construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs in The Bronx."

Neighborhood activists point out those permanent jobs are called "full-time equivalent" — which they take to mean, in essence, part-time.

Mr. Diaz's recommendation comes after a Monday meeting between his bargaining team, representatives of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance — comprising neighborhood activists and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union — Community Board 7 and Related, Mr. DeSio said. He would not provide details about the substance of the meeting.

Mr. DeSio indicated that Mr. Diaz could change his tune — if Related does first. The City Planning Commission will hold its hearing on the project on Sept. 9 and the City Council will then consider it. Mr. DeSio said more meetings with Related are expected.

In his written recommendation to the City Planning Commission, Mr. Diaz said, among other things:

  • There was no viable market study of the project — including what the city-subsidized Armory project would do to River Plaza, the mall in Marble Hill anchored by a Target, or to local businesses around the Armory;

  • He was concerned about traffic impact on Van Cortlandt Park South and the Bx1 and Bx2 bus lines, which connect Kingsbridge to the Grand Concourse;

  • The Department of Education, which, like the city Economic Development Corporation spearheading the deal, is controlled by the mayor, has not given assurances that there would be at least two schools located as part of the Armory deal;

  • The city has not earmarked the $5 million sale price, which Mr. Diaz believes should go towards development and maintenance of an Armory community facility rather than to the city's coffers;

  • The city has made no mention of a non-Dept. of Ed educational facility in the Armory, such as acknowledging Lehman College's quiet but oft-repeated request for a satellite facility there, or rehearsal and performance space;

  • He disliked certain design elements, including no apparent provision of available street lighting.


Anonymous said...

Why is The Press so interested in this issue? Does it affect the residents of Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Kingsbridge Heights, Van Cortlandt Village and Marble Hill? How? How many?

N. Clark Judd said...

It does, and thank you for the opportunity to explain why in a more clear and concise way.

* The Kingsbridge Armory sits right on the edge of our coverage area, which is bounded by Reservoir Avenue.
* Related intends to draw customers from throughout the region, not just the Bronx.
* The project as it stands now would create 1,200 jobs -- we have heard from area residents who want to know what kind of jobs they'll be and how well they will pay.
* It is a possible competitor with the existing River Plaza mall in Marble Hill, and the as-yet-unbuilt Kingsbridge mall on Broadway.
* It involves about $20 million in taxpayer subsidies, and millions in public money have already been invested in the Armory's roof. Simply put, we're trying to keep tabs on your tax dollars.

For these reasons, and because it is the single largest public land use issue currently in the Bronx -- and one of the largest in the city at present -- we are covering this project.

Manny Grossman said...

I'm not particularly interested in the Armory, but I must say that N Judd gave a good answer to the original question.

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