Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Waging on the Armory

In some additional coverage of the Armory battle, the Observer's Eliot Brown hones in on the living wage controversy-and the renewed vigor of council members: "A repetitive refrain filled City Hall’s council chambers on Tuesday morning. For a good hour at a zoning committee hearing on the contentious plan to redevelop the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a mall, council member after council member battered the Bloomberg administration and the developer, the Related Companies, with a similar line of questioning: Given that city subsidies are to be used in the $323 million project, why isn’t there a guarantee that all the future mall’s jobs will pay a “living wage?”

And, as the NY Daily News reports, some of the comments were derisive of the mayor; underscoring our previous observation that his status may have been somewhat diminished by this month's close election: "Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan) scoffed at threats that the armory - which has been largely unused for more than a decade - would remain abandoned for decades if Related pulls out. "If Mayor Bloomberg wanted to finance this project, he could do it himself," Jackson said, drawing laughs. "There's other billionaires in this city, and this state that can do it also."

With an impasse having been reached, and the votes not there for the passage of the application, Related will need to come to the council with some ideas-and jettison others, such as a mega-supermarket, that are sticking points for the legislators: "Despite the hard public posturing of the two sides, veteran Council members said that private negotiations are continuing. Related's veteran lawyer-lobbyist Jesse Masyr said he was "willing to discuss anything that doesn't compromise the economic viability of the project."

What kind of an agreement could get the both sides to agree? Right now, that's difficult to predict-but Related and the city are going to have to show something that indicates that they understand the upset here over the developer getting the gold mine and the community the shaft. As the Observer tells us: "You’re basically saying that the city is going to subsidize a project that basically is going to have jobs that are not even committed to paying the minimum poverty level,” said Councilman Robert Jackson, one of at least seven consecutive members to bring up the wage issue. This all came as very welcome, if not unexpected, news to Stuart Appelbaum, the politically connected president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, who has been relentlessly pushing the Council on the living-wage issue. “I was pleased with every single one of the members of the committee who were there today,” he said. “The city is putting so many resources into the armory that I think we have the right to ask for something specific in return.”

And NY1 weighs in as well on the newly discovered council feistiness-and unwillingness to buy administration arguments that a liviing wage requirement would kill the development: "City Council members who attended the meeting, however, weren't buying it. "In 200 cities there are living wages requirements for publicly supported projects. Now if that is true there must be many retailers who are able to function in that kind of environment," said Councilman Oliver Koppell. "I don't think providing living wages is going to destroy any project," said Councilman Larry Seabrook. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the Kingsbridge Armory plan by December 17th, but it appears members will vote against the proposal if it doesn't change.

And it is our feeling, that the workers and the KARA coalition will be able to get a significant concession from an administration that is not in a position to play hard ball-and a speaker who appears unwilling to provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a teetering project as a new council term is about to begin. Negotiations will continue, but their tenor and tone are likely to be different than they have ever been-with results that reflect what BP Diaz has called, "a new paradigm."