Hundreds of northwest Bronx residents chanted, stomped and danced from a Wednesday, July 15 rally at the Our Lady of Refuge Church to Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Avenue, where they wrapped the Kingsbridge Armory in caution tape. “Es nuestro arsenal,” the tape read. “Our armory.”
The future of the vacant armory is currently under public review. In 2008, the Bloomberg administration and a neighborhood task force chose The Related Companies to redevelop the 575,000 square foot fortress into a shopping mall. On Tuesday, July 14, Community Board 7 voted to approve Related’s plan, provided that the mega-developer adhere to a set of ten neighborhood-minded conditions. The plan will pass to Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the City Council for further review.
City Comptroller and mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, Councilman Oliver Koppell, Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera, Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Councilman Joel Rivera staffer Albert Alvarez attended the rally, hosted by the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Association. KARA is a 20-member group dominated by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Council and Morton Williams Supermarkets.
Diaz Jr. did not attend; a poster of his silhouette rested on a chair beside the podium. Neither did Councilwoman Maria Baez, although Baez authorized NWBCCC member Ronn Jordan to deliver a vow of solidarity on her behalf.
Jordan, Fordham Hill resident Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter and teen activist Joseph Lee asked the electeds to champion KARA demands. The group wants Related to guarantee retail workers at the armory a “living wage” – $10 an hour plus benefits – and the right to unionize. It also wants 60,000 square feet of armory community space and 2000 school seats in the armory annex – all stipulated in a binding community benefits agreement.
Members of KARA and CB7 sit on a benefits agreement task force led by Diaz Jr. Koppell agreed to champion the demands, minus living wage. Thompson, Baez, Rivera, Rivera and Alvarez on behalf of Rivera offered KARA their full support.
Pilgrim-Hunter condemned the CB7 yes vote; it left out living wage, she said. She made the case for an educational and cultural “Armory Center with Shops” rather than a generic and corporate “Shops at the Armory.”
Related boss Stephen Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins, is wildly rich, while a third of northwest Bronx families are dirt poor. The armory is worth $20 million; Related is buying it from the city for $5 million and is set to receive tens of millions of dollars in tax credits. The developer promised to devote only three percent of the shopping mall to community space and to generate 1200 “poverty wage” retail jobs, Pilgrim-Hunter said. CB7 has requested that Related seek a supermarket to open at the armory; a new supermarket would threaten Morton Williams, a union business headquartered on Kingsbridge.
“That ain’t right!” Pilgrim Hunter shouted.
The crowd marched behind a brass band, chanting, “Save our supermarket,” “2-4-6-8 Related must negotiate” and “The Bronx needs a raise.” Some onlookers joined in.
“I like that the people are standing up for what they believe in,” said D-Block, who gave no other name.
Nikki Hamilton, 18, lives at Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. At the armory, she screamed herself hoarse.
“The community doesn’t need another supermarket,” she said. “The community needs schools and a daycare.”