Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Armory Post Mortem

In this morning's NY Daily News the paper analyzes the factors that led to the defeat of the development plan: "A perfect storm of political headwinds blew apart plans to make Kingsbridge Armory a massive shopping mall, insiders said. "Events came together in exquisite fashion," said Richard Lipsky, a lobbyist who worked to kill the mall proposal. The causes of death were many, observers said."

And in part, it was the mayor's less than intimidating presence that emboldened the opposition: "There was the waning influence of Mayor Bloomberg after his closer-than-expected reelection. There was an unusually united Bronx Democratic machine, said others, and the inability of Council Speaker Christine Quinn to stand up to that machine as she faces her own reelection bid for speaker next month."

For the mayor's part, he blamed the absence of the area's local council member-a factor that we also have given some credence to-as a reason why things fell apart; but it's probably a combination of any number of things: "And, as Bloomberg declared yesterday, there was City Councilwoman Maria Baez. The one-time head of the Bronx Council delegation lost her reelection bid and has since been sidelined by illness. "She wasn't around to spearhead," Bloomberg told reporters. "Otherwise I think the vote would have turned out differently." In truth, it was probably all the above - a rare confluence of people and agendas that in the end kept a $324 million proposal from getting off the ground in the Bronx."

But maybe he should look a bit closer to home-at his aloof deputy mayor. As Crain's Insider reports: "The failed Kingsbridge Armory negotiations did not appear to win Deputy Mayor Bob Lieber many fans. Insiders say Lieber offered concessions to the Bronx City Council delegation that he later had to withdraw because Mayor Bloomberg did not agree to them, or because city lawyers raised red flags about their legality."

And his personal style didn't help: "Lieber, a former Lehman Brothers executive, did not develop a rapport with the folks across the table, at one point telling the owner of a supermarket opposite the armory that he wasn't interested in the store's Bronx history. And he did not allow the would-be developer of the armory, The Related Companies, to negotiate directly with the Bronx officials."

And in the aftermath of the mall's defeat, there is mixed reaction in the local neighborhood-with some lamenting the loss of jobs, no matter how well paying, while others make a point of defending the local businesses: "Vera Alexander, 64, who lives across the street from the armory, is happy the mall idea appears dead but hopes something else will come along soon. "They don't need a mall, because it would drive out all the mom-and-pops," Alexander said of the neighborhood's many independent stores. "But putting something positive for the children - there is no gymnastics, there is no theater in the Bronx - would give them something good."

But in general, the loss is laid directly at the mayor's feet: "In a vote many saw as a stunning rebuke of Mayor Bloomberg, who favored the mall proposal, the Council voted, 45 to 1, Monday to kill plans to convert the armory into a $324 million shopping mecca." And observers are looking ahead to what this means for the future.

As Eliot Brown writes: "With a resounding triumph behind them, the union that drove much of the living-wage push, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and elected officials are already casting their eyes further out on the horizon. From the ashes of Kingsbridge, they now expect that the living-wage matter will rise up to appear in future individual developments as they come before the Council, and they will press for a citywide law requiring a living wage for most any project that receives city subsidy."

RW's Stuart Appelbaum underscores what he sees going forward: "As far as we’re concerned, the battle for middle-class jobs for New Yorkers has only just begun,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said."

Whether this means that the living wage is inevitable, remains to be seen-but the proponents believe that they have the winds at their sails: "And thanks to the Kingsbridge fight, numerous council members are now on the record demanding that a developer receiving city subsidies—Related, in this case—has the obligation to require living wages at its development. Given that the Council voted Related down because it did not meet that demand, how does it now turn to other developers and allow them to build without the same mandate? In remarks at the vote, multiple council members used rhetoric to suggest such actions would continue. Charles Barron said he hoped the vote would be “precedent-setting,” and John Liu, the city comptroller–elect, said it “set a standard for accountability.”

But whatever lies ahead, the battle for the Kingsbridge Armory goes down as one of the most memorable in the city's history-and ranks up there for us with the defeat of the Giuliani megastore proposal in 1996. With all of the kudos having been dispensed on this landmark fight, we leave it to one of the Armory's neighbors to have the last word. As the Daily News reported: "Susan Goldman, a retired city investigator, was happy that Related was dealt a loss but said she was hopeful that some useful purpose can be found for the site. "The City Council did the right thing," said Goldman, who lives across the street. "[Related is] cheating the neighborhood. They are not looking out for anyone but themselves."