Friday, August 21, 2009

Unanimity in the Bronx

While we were away for a few days, the NY Daily News did a Kingsbridge Armory story that highlighted the fact that Bronx BP Ruben Diaz has joined with the borough's city council delegation to oppose a supermarket in the Armory: "It's unanimous. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz has joined with the entire Bronx City Council delegation in opposing a new supermarket at the Kingsbridge Armory...Bronx members of the City Council, whose November vote will be binding, all signed a letter last week expressing their opposition to a supermarket."

The challenge now is to see how to insure that the unanimous Bronx sentiment is translated into a binding agreement that forecloses the supermarket option in the Armory-something that Maria Baez has pledged to work toward with the city: "This is not a political issue. This is a community issue," Baez said at a rally last Tuesday outside a nearby grocery store. "When everyone else was leaving the Bronx, these businesses stayed here," said Baez. "That shows that these markets are dedicated to our community."

The controversy was escalated when it was discovered that the city's original request for proposal specifically excluded a supermarket-something that Related Company adhered to when bidding, but tossed aside subsequently:

"The inclusion of a 60,000-square-foot supermarket in the project's environmental impact study sparked controversy because the armory is directly across the street from an existing supermarket, and the city's original request for proposals specifically sought projects that would not duplicate or threaten existing local businesses. When the city selected Related as the winning bidder last year, the developer's proposal made no mention of a supermarket. That point is emphasized in a letter to Mayor Bloomberg signed by the entire Bronx City Council delegation. Delegation chairwoman Maria Baez plans to deliver it to City Hall, along with 10,000 petition signatures from neighborhood residents opposed to bringing big-box stores or a supermarket into the armory."

What really burns the local stores is the use of tax payer money to put their businesses at risk: "Luis Salcedo, former head of the National Supermarket Association, warned that when a massive Pathmark opened on E. 125th St. in Manhattan a few years ago, three nearby grocery stores closed within three months. "I don't have any issue if they come in with their own capital to compete with us," he said. "But we shouldn't be giving them our own taxpayer money to subsidize it." The city invested $30 million in repairing the landmark armory, but offered it to Related for only $5million. Combined with $15 million in tax breaks, city taxpayers are subsidizing the project to the tune of $40million."

We expect that this issue will continue to roil the political waters-with a community march scheduled soon after Labor Day. At the same time, we wouldn't be surprised to see Kingsbridge Armory-with its subsidized retail and below living wage jobs-become a key issue in the upcoming mayoral, and other city wide elections.