Thursday, June 18, 2009

Kingsbridge Armory: Test Case fo CBAs

Lost somewhat in the supermarket controversy in the land use application for the re-development of the Kingsbridge Armory, is the fact that the current land use struggle here poses a test case for crafting a legitimate community benefits agreement. The debacles surrounding the Gateway Mall and Yankee Stadium CBAs have given KARA, the community based coalition fighting for real empowerment in this project, a great deal of ammunition in its fight for genuine community empowerment.

This is underscored by the Bronx News Network; and the news outlet points out that the local community board and KARA are in accord over this issue: "The Board and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) are both pushing for a binding CBA/PLA that will include living wage jobs, local hiring preferences, more community space for local programming, environmental protection and affordable recreation space (i.e. not a 24-Hour Fitness Club)."

This policy position is dramatized by the fact that the developer is relying on millions of dollars in tax subsidies; much more than the $13 million we had originally cited. As the Norwood News has reported: "Last Wednesday, the city approved a proposal that could lead to $17.8 million in tax breaks for the Related Companies, the developer that plans to transform the massive landmarked Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping center."

Related, for its part, is dragging its feet; it's simply not use to any genuine kind of community agreement since it has been able,relying on the guile of Jesse James Masyr, to use its political clout to craft developer-friendly pacts that are passed off as CBAs. As the Norwood News points out: "KARA and the Board say they still hope to get these benefits in an agreement, but Masyr told them "no" on the living wage job front on April 24. (They're upset with the Norwood News' headline saying "Living Wage Hopes for Armory Dashed" and maintain their hopes are not dashed by a long shot.)Masyr and Related have not committed to sitting down and negotiating either a CBA or PLA with KARA or the Board."

The key thing to watch out for next week, is how the community board treats the entire issue. It took a lot of heat for writing a letter of support for Related in its quest for IDA funding: "Despite Thompson’s concerns and KARA’s protests, EDC Chairman and IDA board member Seth Pinsky pointed to Community Board 7’s approval of the project as proof that local residents support the tax breaks, even though the board never voted on whether to support them. CB7 Chair Greg Faulkner admitted there had not been a vote, but said he sent a letter to the IDA in support of the project on behalf of the board’s Executive Committee, which is made up of six of the board’s 32 members. [Usually, before a community board takes an action such as writing a letter of support, a quorum must be present and then a majority of members must vote in support of an action. Faulkner said that he now needed to get support for the project on the record.]"

We ran into this same kind of confusion over whether or not the board supported a supermarket in the Armory. Masyr told Crain's that Related only included the idea when it was encouraged to do so by the community board: "Both Community Board 7 and the mayor's office have requested that a supermarket be part of the project, to give consumers better access to fresh produce—a problem in many parts of the Bronx."

Yet board chair Faulkner never had a vote on this subject either; and he claims that his board supports the KARA agenda-which includes no supermarket at the armory: "Faulkner said the board agreed in principle on almost all of KARA’s demands and will continue to fight for community benefits. Faulkner hopes to create a negotiating committee that includes members of the community board, City Council, borough president’s office, and KARA."

But all of the area elected officials are supporting KARA's efforts; a fact that was made manifest at the IDA hearing: "Several elected officials came to voice support for KARA, including Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera, Councilman Oliver Koppell and Thompson. During the hearing, representatives of Congressman Jose Serrano and State Senator Pedro Espada urged the board to postpone its decision until Related met with KARA."

So now the real battle for community empowerment begins; and the KARA coalition, bolstered by the workers at MortonWilliams, are ready to do battle. The stage is set for next Wednesday's community board hearing.