In the Bronx, could a loss lead to a win?

October 22, 2009

No, it’s not baseball, it’s NYC’s land use process. This week, the

New York City Department of City Planning

voted 8 to 4 in favor of a plan to develop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a mall, even though the deal lacks a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). So why are

supporters of creating a CBA optimistic?

In New York City, where heads of commissions and board leaders are predominantly mayoral appointees, rarely is there dissent or even serious questions raised about proposed projects. But years of organizing and learning the ins and outs of development policy by members of the

Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance

(KARA) have put officials on a bumpy ride. “No” votes from Planning Commission members representing Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and the city’s Public Advocate (there was one recusal from a Mayoral appointee) opens up significant leverage for organizers as the project needs final approval from City Council members in those boroughs.

With the strong backing of the relatively new

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz

and a unique showing of labor support – including the retail workers, building trades, Central Labor Council, teachers and SEIU 32BJ – KARA is in a strong position to push for CBA negotiations with Related Companies even though the developer is not required to participate in such talks.

“We are not asking for anything radical or extreme. We are simply asking that, in a borough that has the highest poverty rate in the nation and has consistently seen the highest unemployment numbers in New York State, Related and their future tenants provide living wage jobs with benefits that allow Bronxites a chance to provide for their families and to build a better life,” said Diaz.

As the project winds its way through the City Council for the final phase of approvals, KARA and the Bronx Borough President hope that the developer who wants to develop “Shops at the Armory” (with tens of millions of dollars of subsidies, a rock-bottom purchase price of $5 million for the landmarked building and the benefit of a $30 million new roof thanks to New York City taxpayers) will come to the negotiating table.

Considering that massive development projects in New York City, and the Bronx in particular (think Yankee Stadium, Gateway Mall, Croton Water Filtration Plant), have been easily approved without real community benefits, KARA is ahead of the curve and could shepherd in the first real CBA in the Big Apple.