Thursday, May 15, 2008

KARA Mia Mine

We've been having some ongoing discussions with the good folks at KARA-the Kingsbridge Armory Development Alliance. KARA represents a coalition of groups in the Northwest Bronx that is looking to insure that the development of the armory is beneficial to the local community: "KARA seeks living wages and union protections for local residents in the construction and permanent jobs, community space, an affordable recreation center, and environmental protections through the negotiation of a Community Benefits Agreement, a Labor Peace Agreement and a Project Labor Agreement with the developer of the Armory." This, as we have said before, will pose a real challenge.

Our interest here is that the project does not include any big box retail uses that would not only threaten local store owners, but would also place a heavy traffic burden on the Kingsbridge community. The eventual outcome of all this is uncertain. As the NY Times has pointed out: "Despite the high poverty rate in Kingsbridge Heights, Related and the city said a shopping development could work at the armory because Bronx residents had limited shopping options.The retailers have not yet been chosen. Negotiations are continuing, which call for Related to buy the building, retain the exterior and rebuild the interior. The plan requires approval by the City Council, which officials said probably would not be granted until next year."

The armory presents a considerable development challenge: "For years, the Kingsbridge Armory, a blocklong red brick castle with soaring turrets that dominates the West Bronx’s low-rise streetscape, has been a neighborhood embarrassment. The nine-story Romanesque building on Kingsbridge Road at Jerome Avenue has been mostly vacant for more than a decade, a blemish on the working-class Kingsbridge Heights area not because of its appearance, but because it was not being used."

KARA wants to negotiate a CBA with the city's designated developer of the armory-the Related Company. This will be no simple task since Related has never been a community friendly company, leaving the warm and fuzzy stuff to others. Already, the city seems to be trying to create one of its Potemkin Village-style "Advisory Committee" rope-a-dope strategies that co opt KARA into a kind of paralysis.

Related, whose vision for the site contrasts sharply with that of the community, needs to be confronted; and the elected officials need to stand four square behind the community if any meaningful CBA is to be crafted, Otherwise we're going to see a repeat of the Gateway Mall, Yankee Stadium and Columbia University debacles: faux CBAs that reflect the will of electeds, and generate money that is channeled away from any community benefit and toward less savory destinations.

One thing we did suggest to the KARA folks, is that they insist that the EIS for the development be done by an environmental consultant that is not chosen by Related. A more objective evaluation is needed, particularly in the post-congestion pricing climate. Now's the time to worry about the Bronx asthma rates, and Related crocodile tears over this in support of the mayor's congestion tax need to be exposed for the hypocrisy that it was.

The Northwest Bronx needs an honest review, and not a stacked deck orchestrated by Related's master of misdirection, the honorable Jesse James Masyr. It is approaching the time where we will be seeing both Related and Vornado put in the dock and judged wanting. KARA could be just the group that can do this, and we will help them in any way we can.