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Cliffhanger at Kingsbridge Armory

Manic days of debate and feverish nights of negotiations have come and gone but the Kingsbridge Armory living wage battle rages on.

On Friday, December 11, City Council Bronx Delegation members and mayoral deputies continued heated discussions to determine how and how much retail workers at The Related Companies’ planned Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall would be paid.

The City Council has postponed its verdict on Related’s mall again and again but must vote the plan up or down on Monday, December 14. The developer is set to buy the 575,000 landmark from the city for $5 million and benefit from tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks.

Related plans to invest more than $300 million to redevelop the empty armory, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued will better the Bronx and keep revenue in the city. But Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, steered by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and a retail workers union, have asked the Bronx Delegation and the City Council to stop Related unless the developer guarantees retail workers at the armory mall living wages, $10 an hour plus benefits.

Related has argued that a living wage guarantee would damage the developer’s attempts to land top retailers and render the mall unbuildable. The Bloomberg administration is afraid that a guarantee at the armory would lead to similar stand-offs at future malls.

Possible compromises are under discussion. Related or the city could reward retailers at the armory who agree to pay workers living wages. Related and the city could also establish a fund that would offer assistance to workers who don’t earn living wages. Lawyers have been called to determine what form of assistance would be legal.

Diaz Jr. and KARA are opposed to anything less than living wages for all paid by the Related or retailers. But the Bronx Delegation is unsure. Construction and trade unions are anxious to see how the City Council votes; many hope to help build the mall.

“Though the wage provisions that the Bloomberg administration has put forward represent a major step…there is no guarantee,” Diaz Jr. said.

KARA member Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter agreed.

“All Bloomberg [has offered] is a ‘Bah Humbug’ and a lump of coal,” she said.

Related lawyer Jesse Masyr stated that Related has ceded control of negotiations to the Bloomberg administration. Community Board 7 chair Greg Faulkner hopes an agreement is reached on Monday but thinks there are too many special interests at play.

“I hope it works out,” Faulkner said.

On Wednesday, December 9, Bronx Delegation members Oliver Koppell and Annabel Palma introduced a bill that would, in the future, require developers who benefit from city tax breaks to guarantee living wages.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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