Monday, June 27, 2005

Summary of the Hearing on the Bronx Terminal Market

Today’s joint hearing which examined issue of preserving the Bronx Terminal Market was, to say the least, quite interesting. It was attended by a number of elected officials including Council members Jackson, Stewart, Clarke, Monserrate, Nelson, Baez, Arroyo, Rivera, Palma, Felder and Martinez. First up to testify was EDC president Andrew Alper and Related Lawyer/Lobbyist Jesse Masyr. Most of their testimony consisted of praising the new Gateway Center development, using 3d animations and color handouts to emphasize the greatness of this project for the Bronx.

However, the most relevant portions of their presentation concerned the relocation plan. According to Alper, the merchants were offered a tremendous deal which included an $8 million dollar assistance package and the help of the well-reputed Cornerstone real estate company. The EDC president explicitly stated that Cornerstone found the merchants spaces that generally would accommodate 1 or 2 merchants (one potential site could house the 5 or 6 African merchants, he said).

This demonstrates that, from the beginning, EDC and its relocation agency did not see the need to relocate the merchants as a single entity, the only way in which the market could remain economically value. If Alper and his organization had actually sat down with the wholesalers or understood the workings of the market they would have not offered a plan that was essentially assisted suicide. The Bronx Terminal Market is such a draw because of its combination of unique ethnic products and its function as a one stop shopping destination. Remove these attractive elements and you destroy the market.

Making matters worse is the fact that Alper’s so-called generous deal was an ultimatum. EDC told the Terminal Market merchants either take the deal or be evicted with nothing. Instead of negotiating with the vendors to come up with the best deal from both them and the city, Alper’s office arrogantly thrust on them a plan that would kill their businesses.

Throughout his testimony, the EDC president expressed incredulity as to why the merchants wouldn’t talk to his office. Alper intimated that they were being led astray by misguided lawyers and public relations advisors and that his people were doing all they could to look out for the interests of the merchants. However, it was EDC that, by offering a take-it or leave-it deal that would scatter the vendors, showed it had no real interest in truly helping the Terminal Market wholesalers. If someone hands you the noose to kill yourself does it then make sense to continue talking with them about preservation?

EDC was peppered with many tough questions especially from Councilmember Monserrate and, later, Councilwoman Clarke. Monserrate not only questioned the sole-source nature of the deal but asked whether the economic development agency had even appraised the value of the land that the Terminal Market and the Bronx House of Detention sits on. Alper had no idea which demonstrates that the city is basically giving away property to a single developer without knowing how much it’s worth and whether the Related deal is in fact the most economically beneficial.

Clarke’s line of questioning focused on whether Alper and EDC had studied a) the economic importance of the market and b) whether it was making any effort, through loans, trainings, partnerships with community groups, workforce development, etc… to make sure that the Bronx Terminal market merchants could survive and prosper. The Councilwoman’s basic point was that if EDC showed the merchants even a fraction of the attention it showed to Related the agency would be doing a lot more to insure the market's economic survival. In the end, after being pressured by Monserrate, Clarke and the other council members, Alper conceded that he still wants to help the merchants as long as they come to the table.

The next panel to testify included James Connolly who, with Professor Fainstein, prepared a report that demonstrated the feasibility of relocating the merchants as a single entity. The Council members present were extremely intrigued by these alternative visions (ones that EDC and Cornerstone never bothered to pursue) and expressed the desire to sit down with the Merchants and EDC to figure out which of the proposed sites would be most viable and economically feasible, the assumption being that the City would help with the move and the construction of a new market facility.

This was a very important part of the hearing because all the present members, especially those of the Bronx Delegation, declared their support for preserving the market. We will see what happens within the next few weeks but we’re pleased that key council members are on record as saying that the preservation of the market must occur. Considering that the merchants were essentially left for dead and were about to be evicted a couple of months prior, the developments at the hearing are a promising first step to the saving and even possible expansion of the valuable Bronx Terminal Market.