Redeveloping the kingsbridge armory for whom?
Redeveloping The Kingsbridge Armory For Whom?
The Eighth Regiment Armory (a city, state, and federal landmark) is located in the Bronx, New York. It was constructed in the early 1900s for military training purposes for the National Guard. Better known to its Bronx residents as the Kingsbridge Armory, it is a nine-story building that covers an enormous numbers of acres and includes offices, space for storage, space for military use, classrooms and fitness rooms. The National Guard stopped using the armory in 1960s, entertainment complex for musicians in 1970s, became a homeless shelter for women in 1996 and mid-2000s it was part of cinema backup of film, I am Legend. Since 2000, the armory has been vacant because the city goals to redevelopment the vast site. The homeless shelter was forced to move to a smaller complex located around 177th street and Jerome Ave in the Bronx. Since then, many residents have been left wondering what the next step will be, how it will be remodeled, and how the redevelopment of the armory will affect the community. Former mayors such as Rudy Giuliani wanted to make the West Bronx hub into sports-complex (basketball theme) like Chelsea Piers and mall-like place where people can go to shop for goods and accessories. On the other hand, because of Bronx's poverty rate of 28%, residents and local politicians wanted to meet the community's needs by agreeing to a community benefits agreement. It will provide benefits and living wage for the public and local unions. A few business owners from the area are not committed to this plan because of their fear of losing their business against the incoming competition. The debate has been highly controversial and writing a case study on this topic can bring light to other students in the classroom who are unaware of the redevelopment of the armory. In this research paper, I will explore the debate around the Kingsbridge Armory Mall. As a member of this community, I will strive to keep my report unbiased and explain the positives and negatives for the future of this historical landmark towards the community.
The Battle for The Kingsbridge Armory:
In 2006, the New York City Economic Development Corporation planned ahead with redevelopment plans with requesting proposals from various companies for the sale and redevelopment of the landmark. The City's vision for the Armory to become a mixed-use facility that will help the local community, as well, bring in other residents and tourists to the area to pump up the economy. The proposals discouraged any big-box stores from suburban areas, such as Wal-Mart, and preferences would be given to companies whom would pay higher than minimum wage and the possibility to include benefits. In addition, the proposed development was to involve school space but the NYC Department of Education was prepared to involve two schools but backed down from the initial proposal, which the community became furious since the increasing overcrowding of the other schools in the areas. “In February 2007, three developers -- Atlantic Development Group, the Related Cos., and Rosenshein Associates - submitted their plans” (Plan NYC). Only one of the proposals was leaked to the public, which was Atlantic Development Group. Their proposal includes “public schools for 2,000 students, a 57,200-square-foot YMCA, 13,000-25,000 square feet of community space, and a retail portion with a department store, a movie theater, and a parking garage” (Plan NYC). Without the support of the Department of Education, Atlantic lost their bid, Rosenshein Associates dropped out of the competition, which led Related Companies to win the bid.
The Supporting Group, KARA:
The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) is a union of partnership, which includes, local community groups, churches and unions that are favor in seeking reasonable development for the Kingsbridge Armory. They are heavily involved with supporting the community into getting the benefits that the community needs such as higher pay and union entitlement. As of right now, they currently negotiating a community benefits action (CBA) to support the community. As reported by Hubert, “KARA would like the developer to follow the guidelines they outlined in the community benefits agreement.” The Alliance wants to thrive for higher pay to strengthen the community because “economic development that creates jobs that keep people in poverty accomplishes nothing” (Hubert). In addition, they want the Armory to provide long-term jobs for Bronx residents, quality education, arts, exercise, culture and social programs and including, clean environment. In addition, they rather have no deal with the construction company than to have the community live in misery with low wages.
The Controversial Debate:
According to the New York Times, “The City Planning Commission has approved the Related Companies' proposal to revitalize the Kingsbridge Armory, a project that will add shops and a movie theater to the landmark site in the Bronx.” Related Company is planning to convert the armory into a $323 million shopping center. Related has been offered huge funding and tax incentives for the project, which include more than $40 million in federal and state historic tax credits. The city also spent $30 million to replace the roof. Under the terms of the planned deal, Related will pay $5 million for the estate (Dolnick). Related outbid every other construction company by more than $5 million. Before Related's development plan was approved (8 to 4 councils accepted it), other plans were involved with other companies such as, Chelsea Piers-like area. As per New York Times, “the other two proposals offered fewer retail options and more parking problems, among other issues.” In addition, community activists were allowed to choose their own proposal without the knowledge of knowing who is behind the project, which is somewhat surprising that the community is opposing about the project.
Related Company are against providing the community to meet their needs because they reported that, “asking possible tenants to pay employees at least $400 a week for full-time work is a deal-breaker because companies won't agree to rent space if they have to pay $10 an hour (Louis). Related's representative stated that retailers would not come to the Armory if they can pay cheaper employees in other parts of the Bronx. Mayor Bloomberg and other city hall officials are in agreement with Related Company because they strongly feel that it is a private investment and the city should not guaranteeing people's wages. But KARA feels that the city invested $42 million to the project which they feel that it not a private investment anymore.
On the other hand, the community was not fond of this decision because they did not get any promise of living wage unions and benefits. Kratz reports, “Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) have been lobbying Bronx City Council members to reject the Related Companies' plan to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory into a giant shopping mall unless the firm sits down to negotiate a binding community benefits agreement with elected officials and community stakeholders.” Residents wanted to decrease the unemployment rate and increase stable jobs, and did not want to be taken advantage of. Many residents, along with Bronx politician Ruben Diaz, Jr., have protested and filed complaints towards members of City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg and Related Company to create and established a plan that can benefit the residents, not just the economy of the Bronx. The community wants to avoid another development that is attached with Related Company, Gateway Mall, which gave residents' minimum wage jobs and increased traffic to the locals.
Eliot Brown from The New York Observer writes, “As one of the few developers seeking approvals on large-scale development these days, Related has fast found itself entangled in a fight at the armory, facing engaged community groups and large unions that all favor the site's development, but that each want their own set of benefits.” Community groups are demanding “livable wages” as they do not want residents to be taken advantage of. Residents want stability in their income level that will help them to set away from living on the poverty line. Some of the perks that community groups are asking, “$11.50 an hour, or $10 with benefits, compared with the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.” Related answered back that to the community stating that if a requirement of “livable wages” would set to occur, they would not continue with their plan of redevelopment of the Armory. As Mr. Ruben Diaz stated, “A new civil rights movement to better jobs and better pay”. He strongly feels that the residents of community should get their needs and if not, he recommends nixing the project.
A group that is not satisfied with the idea of big box retailers coming into the District 7 community is current storeowners. Storeowners located around the area of the armory are not happy because they feel that retailers would put them out of business. For example, Brown writes, “Nearby supermarket chain Morton Williams is also pressuring local elected to have Related Company rule out a grocery store within the armory.” Storeowners are a unique part of the debate because they are not choosing any sides. Instead, storeowners want their own recommendations of not having the same business in the armory that is located nearby. Local businesses believe that new plans for the Amory would hurt numerous local businesses. However, Related Company suggest that the shops would attract more businesses and bring more revenue to the poverty level community. Storeowners faced another dilemma against the armory development. If the community wins the debate, “Moms and Pops” can face a foreseeable problem in which current employees will eventually seek out to find other opportunities at the armory, which the storeowners might face, a high turnover rate. As Hubert wrote in her article, Future of Kingsbridge Armory Debated in the Bronx, “Politician Mr. Diaz emphasized the danger of building a big box supermarket in the community where local supermarkets thrive. He says that such a supermarket would threaten smaller community-based stores which have been around for many years and employ hundreds of Bronx residents (Hubert)”.
In past two weeks, I asked several of my building's tenants about their views and thoughts about the Kingsbridge Armory development. Approximately, 60% were agreement that they prefer not to have a shopping mall but instead a place where the youth can go for entertainment purposes to keep them off the street. For example, residents imposed sports complex / entertainment arena where the youth can go when school is not in session. Other residents prompted that a shopping complex would be great for the community because it would create jobs and help the local economy. When the residents were asked about having benefits along with the creation with the jobs, mostly all have stated that the residents prefer to have benefits along with high pay but it seems unrealistic to them to get both services. Surprisingly, they rather get paid minimum wage than the project to get nixed. Overall, residents in the neighborhood have been living in poverty for so many years that they rather just get by with minimum wage and still seek social services.
Agreed or Disagreed:
To a certain extent, I do agree with the community's argument about the redevelopment of Kingsbridge Armory. According to Louis from the New York Daily News, “The project would create around 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 retail jobs” (Louis). The request for all tenants to offer a living wage is both reasonable and ultimately more maintainable for the community. Being a resident from the area, I strongly feel that the poverty rate should be lower down in our community. The reality of the economic situation facing working Bronx residents, for whom there are few if any options. We should provide jobs and training skills for people, who lack in education, to better way of living. If Related Company can come to agreement with the community, it will be great way to lower down crime and keep young adults out of the streets and into the workforce. The future generation will not be tempted to be in the streets, being in situations that are not safe for them. Better living conditions to our surroundings will improve by fair wages and benefits not by minimum wage. New York City officials should support the community and put living wage requirements in all city projects such as in San Francisco.
On the other hand, as a realist view if the community cannot win, I do not think it is worth of losing out on the project. I think that the community should compromise with developers because the community needs these jobs. If the project fails, people are still going to live in poverty and nothing going to change. Bronx has the highest poverty level in New York City and the rest of the community should not fail because an agreement cannot be reach. Other boroughs have accepted similar situations, where big-box retailers would come to the area offered minimum wages and economy level has risen because the increased spending and tourisms. As Dec. 9th nears for the final debate for subcommittees to modify the proposal, I think the community should have a backup plan of the accepting the proposal without the incentives of having unions and higher wagers.
Overall, the controversial debate is still being in the process of working out. As of November 15, 2009, no agreement has been reached among the community including Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Related Company. The debate is still continuing among the community groups and City Hall officials along with developers about other options to accommodate everyone. It has gotten to the point that Related Company have considered of pulling out of the deal if the community wins the debate. The reason they would pull of the project because it is unable to bank financing under such terms. According to Egbert, “Sources said that Related Companies' options are to either offer some compromise on the wage issue, see the subcommittee kill the proposal or withdraw its application and let the city issue a new request for proposals to develop the armory (Egbert 2009). Kingsbridge Armory is a historical landmark that has been empty since 2000 and is in need for redevelopment for the sake of the community that has a high level of poverty rate. I agreed with the community that Related Company should develop a model for employees to receive higher pay than minimum wage and/or benefits to lower down poverty in the neighborhood. Related is holding back the agreement because the construction company feel than are going to lose money but then again they are receiving huge tax cuts or incentives to balance out the loss. In the end, as a realistic point of view, with or without the benefits that in the hopes of coming along with the Armory, the Bronx residents are in need of jobs. I feel that the project should not be stop if the community loses the debate and should compromise with the City Hall officials because the Armory will still be vacant and people living in poverty.