Friday, March 06, 2009

Well Armored For a Fight

Comptroller Bill Thompson, after remaining fairly quiet over a number of questionable deals, is gearing up for a fight over the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory. As the Real Estate Observer reports: "But now, with the mayoral election just eight months away, Mr. Thompson is striking a noticeably different tone, as he seems to be taking a more activist approach to some of the various roles the comptroller’s job affords."

Thompson is rightfully questioning the subsidizing of the Armory deal-particularly if the retail development will have shops that compete with existing neighborhood businesses: "The latest round came Thursday morning, when he joined the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and a host of other labor, religious and community groups to take a swipe at the Related Companies’ plans for a $323 million retail development in the Bronx, threatening a "no" vote if Related did not make certain changes. The project, the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, must go before the IDA, as Related is seeking $13.8 million in tax breaks."

And there are possible plans for putting a food use right across the street from the borough's oldest supermarket-one that has been remodeled with millions of the Sloan brothers' own money: "With regard to Related, Mr. Thompson is vowing to vote against the deal unless there is a community benefits agreement in which Related would agree to concessions such as guaranteed wages and community hiring. The firm has been asked many things for the development, including requests that it build a school, and that it not build a competitor to a neighboring grocery store."

The controversy puts into sharp relief our observation about the city's supermarket promotion plan; one that proposes to subsidize new building, but might do so at the expense of stores that have been working in the neighborhoods for many years. Such is the case of the Associated Supermarket on the corner of Kingsbridge and Jerome. The fact that the Sloans hire around 700 Kingsbridge residents for all of their stores in Manhattan only adds to the inequity of promoting a project-with tax subsidies-that would hurt such a large local employer.

The city needs to be cognizant of nurturing existing markets-and the possibility of a box store at the site, one that might threaten the viability of scores of local markets, makes no policy sense. Thompson is right; and the local council persons-Baez and Rivera-need to stand tall with KARA and the RWDSU, the community coalition that has done so much to galvanize community support for Associated and a strong community benefits agreement.