Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Related and Community Benefits

In this morning's NY Times, the paper focuses on the conflict over the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment on a community benefits negotiation between the KARA, a coalition of local groups, and Related, the developer of the site: "Residents of the northwest Bronx have long taken a proprietary interest in the Kingsbridge Armory, a huge city-owned Romanesque-style fortress that looms over the elevated subway tracks on Jerome Avenue...Now community organizers in the area, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, are seeking a private contract with the Related Companies, the developer chosen by the city in April to transform the Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping mall with 575,000 square feet of retail space, including a department store, a multiscreen movie theater and restaurants."

Clearly, this will be a big challenge since Related has not distinguished itself for being a real friend to community interests. As the Times points out: "Related has already negotiated one community benefits agreement in the Bronx, for its Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market, a big-box shopping center that is under construction. But that agreement — like a handful of others that have been made in New York — has drawn criticism from advocates and scholars for being weaker than those in other states. At Gateway Center, only three local groups were parties to the agreement and few obligations were actually imposed on Related, Mr. Gross said."

Which only underscores the difficulties ahead, problems that are exacerbated by the city's cool response to the CBA process; "When you do a C.B.A., the decision may be made in a vacuum, and that’s what we’re looking to avoid,” Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview last week. “We’re not opposed to benefits for the community, and we’re not opposed to community involvement. But we just think it should be part of the larger process.” He said the city’s land-use process “gives ample opportunity for the community’s voice to be heard.” Proposals are reviewed by the local community board, whose members are appointed by the borough president and the City Council member representing the district. The board’s powers are only advisory."

Pinsky may be the only one left in the city who feels that the ULURP process adequately represents real community interest-particularly in the Bronx where a local board's demonstration of independence led to a wholesale sacking of its most vocal members. Related, CBAs, and the Bronx are not perfect together it would seem.

We do, however, have a concern about the Bronx's original supermarket, and give a shout out to the RWDSU for its effort to protect it: "Jeffrey Eichler, a coordinator for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW, said one of the alliance’s objectives was to avoid harming existing businesses, including the Associated Supermarket on Jerome Avenue, opposite the armory, which is unionized."

On the other hand, CB# 9's board chair discounts the KARA role, and feels that a food store should be part of the armory development: "Gregory Faulkner, the chairman of the Community Board 7, whose area includes the armory, said it was now up to his board to assume a leadership role. “There are more voices than KARA,” he said. Mr. Faulkner said many people in the community want the new mall to include a “top notch” food market, something that is not on the alliance’s agenda."

This could set up an interesting battle, and we should remind some folks that the debacle over the Gateway Mall, one that led to the sneaking in of a BJs Warehouse Club, will not be repeated here; and if Related plays it cute it may well find that the political landscape has shifted and the entire project rests on quicksand, CBA or no CBA.