Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Councilwoman Maria Baez joined union boss Stuart Appelbaum beside the Kingsbridge Armory on Wednesday, August 26, to demand living wages and union neutrality at the 575,000 square foot landmark.
Diaz Jr. highlighted a community benefits agreement drafted and released to The Related Companies for review on Monday, August 17. The agreement stipulates that Related guarantee retail workers at its planned Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall a living wage – $10 an hour plus benefits.
It also stipulates that Related observe union neutrality, perform first source neighborhood hiring, offer space to northwest Bronx tenants at below-market rents, maintain neighborhood parks, landscape a public plaza at Reservoir Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, and forbid the establishment of a new supermarket or big-box wholesale club at the armory.
The owners of Morton Williams Supermarkets and Appelbaum – who represent union supermarket workers – argue that a Whole Foods or Costco at the armory would shutter existing supermarkets and result in layoffs. Diaz Jr. plans to stand by Morton Williams and existing supermarkets that endured the “Bronx is burning” era, he said.
Selected to redevelop the empty landmark in 2008, Related is set to acquire the armory for $5 million and set to benefit from tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks.
“We’re proud of [the draft benefits agreement],” Diaz Jr. said.
Appelbaum, of RWDSU and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, praised the borough president for sitting stakeholders together. Diaz Jr. allowed the deadline for his recommendation on the future of the armory to pass on Monday, August 24.
Determined to negotiate with Related first, the borough president will submit a non-compliant recommendation to the Department of City Planning. The City Planning Commission will review it, non-compliant status notwithstanding.
Diaz Jr. has set a tentative new deadline – Tuesday, September 8. After the borough president submits his recommendation, the City Council will weigh in.
“We’ve worked too hard to see the process rushed,” Diaz Jr. said.
Baez promised to fight for community benefits at City Hall. The councilwoman has surveyed northwest Bronx residents and gathered tens of thousands of signatures opposed to the establishment of a new supermarket at the armory, she said.
Related has threatened to abandon the armory rather than agree to a living wage guarantee; it would be unable to land top-tier tenants, Related lawyer Jesse Masyr has said. Appelbaum disagrees. Whether or not it guarantees living wages, Related will turn a profit, he said. Ten dollars an hour adds up to only $21,000 a year, Appelbaum said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stated his opposition to benefits agreements in general. Bloomberg wants to see the armory redeveloped, period. Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson has endorsed the benefits agreement effort.
“The Bloomberg administration has told us it doesn’t believe in benefits agreements,” Assemblyman Jose Rivera said. “But the Bronx is not Brooklyn. The Bronx is the Bronx. We want responsible development. I trust [Baez]. I trust [Diaz Jr.]. I don’t trust Bloomberg. I don’t trust corporate America.”
The draft benefits agreement bans some big-box stores, like Wal-Mart, a source with knowledge of the agreement said.