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Bloomberg sits down with CNG

It appears that The Related Companies will sign a community benefits agreement at the Kingsbridge Armory, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg is none too pleased.

“I am violently opposed to community benefits agreements,” Bloomberg said in a sit-down interview with Community Newspaper Group reporters on Monday, August 24.

Related, set to build a shopping mall at the 575,000 square foot landmark, has promised to sign a benefits agreement. It will set aside a portion of the armory for the community. The Kingsbridge Armory (KARA) has pushed for a living wage proviso; it wants Related to guarantee retail workers at the shopping mall $10 an hour plus benefits.

Mayoral candidate Tony Avella, who endorses a bottom-up approach to development, thinks the city should insert a community benefits formula into its mandated public review procedure, he said at a sit-down interview, also on August 24.

Bloomberg considers the existing public review procedure more than adequate. Benefits agreements are negotiated by small groups of people “out to feather their own nests and extort money from the developer,” he said.

Benefits agreements dissuade businesses from opening in the city, said Bloomberg. He cited the Gateway Center, a Related-built shopping mall at the old Bronx Terminal Market, as a model development. Related signed a benefits agreement at the Gateway Center that its critics consider deficient and unenforceable.

“Drive on the Deegan and look at the Gateway Center,” Bloomberg said. “It used to be a handful of tiny stores employing a very few. Now it’s the future of the south Bronx.”

KARA has argued that the big-box retailers at the Gateway Center offer part-time no-benefit low-wage jobs and won’t lift Bronx residents out of poverty.

“What’s the alternative?” Bloomberg said. “[The Kingsbridge Armory has been vacant] how long? Retail jobs don’t pay as much as rocket scientist jobs, but retail jobs are still new jobs.”

Bloomberg has nothing against a living wage. The city has brokered living wage benefits. But KARA and similar groups want to guarantee a prevailing wage and union neutrality, he said. KARA has in fact argued for union neutrality.

“I don’t think the city should be telling business people what their policies should be,” Bloomberg said. “Let the marketplace do that. At some point [business people] will locate across the border. We’re not well served if everyone drives to Westchester.”

In his interview with CNG reporters, Bloomberg discussed the stalled Atlantic Yards development in Downtown Brooklyn and the future of Coney Island. He thinks developer Bruce Ratner should reconsider renowned architect Frank Gehry’s Atlantic Yards design, and thinks the development should go forward. Bloomberg reported that the city is close to a deal for developer Joe Sitt’s Coney Island portfolio. The City Council recently approved a plan to rezone Coney Island. The city will pay Sitt $100 million, plus or minus.

Bloomberg defended the elimination of the two-term limit he pushed past the City Council despite two public referenda opposed to it.

“It was a unique period in the city,” Bloomberg said. “The economy was starting to fall apart. Our school system was on the verge of a major breakthrough.”

New Yorkers will reward or punish Bloomberg at the ballot box, he said.

The mayor denied that his administration is ticketing to raise revenue. Some parking and sanitation agents use poor judgment, Bloomberg admitted. But there are no hard-and-fast ticket quotas, he said.

“The city is a lot cleaner than it was before,” Bloomberg said. “Traffic deaths are way down.”

The administration has negotiated flat rate fines for FedEx and its ilk, Bloomberg said. FedEx drivers need to double-park. He didn’t address the impact of parking tickets on small businesses.

Bloomberg isn’t sure why the city has failed to build a new recreation center in the north Bronx; residents of Community District 12 troubled by gang violence recently held a town hall meeting to demand a center. Bloomberg thinks the city needs more after-school facilities. But owing to economic realities, maintaining the after-school facilities it already operates is a challenge, he said. Building a center won’t necessarily result in a safe north Bronx because wayward teens tend to dodge after-school facilities, Bloomberg said. Teens like to hang out; the mayor hung out as a teen and turned out well, he said.

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group