Friday, April 25, 2008

Community's Armory Challenge

As we've been saying, the effort by the coalition of community groups in the Northwest Bronx to negotiate a viable CBA will be a real challenge. As the NY Daily News reports this morning: "Deal with us or no deal, a coalition of community, unions and elected officials told the newly selected developer of the Kingsbridge Armory Thursday. The group said it wants The Related Cos. to agree to a community benefits agreement better than the one it now has at another one of its Bronx projects."

Oh yes, the other Bronx project referred to is the Bronx Terminal Market site, land that Related acquired for next to nothing and without the benefit of a public bid. The company's asthma-inducing mall is currently rising next to the Deegan, and the CBA that was "negotiated" was a creature of no real community input-a set up by BP Carrion and friends.

As history has proven, Related's not the easiest company to negotiate community friendly agreements with-and if they bring Jesse James Masyr into the discussions, hold fast to your community benefits wallets. So far, however, the community coalition's hanging tough: "Thursday, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) gathered on the steps of City Hall to demand the firm negotiate a binding benefits agreement before final project approval. "The Kingsbridge Armory was built to serve and protect our community," said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a founding member of KARA. "Let's make it a beacon of hope once again."

The list of KARA's demands also presents a challenge. As The NY Times reported on yesterday's event: "Among the items on their wish list: an agreement for the jobs at the shopping center to meet the city’s “living wage” standard of $10 an hour, or $10.50 without benefits, instead of the $7.15-an-hour minimum wage; a hiring preference for local residents; community space in the project, including a recreation center; and a guarantee that the construction work will be done by union workers only, and that an apprenticeship program for local residents will be established."

For its part, Related is saying all of the right things: "A spokeswoman from Related, Joanna Rose, said in a statement,“Related looks forward to working with the community and all the stakeholders to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory and continue the renaissance of the Bronx.” The devil, as usual, will be in the details.

We'll see how all of this transpires, particularly as the strength of the city council continues to erode in the face of the slush fund scandal. It may be that the current political constellation is aligned just right for the community to have maximum impact. KARA, for its part, is an impressive grass roots coalition: "KARA - which includes the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; building trade unions and local churches - is well positioned to influence the process."