Diaz and community fight homeless shelter in hopes of reviving Kingsbridge Armory

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. stopped Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to turn the Muller Army Reserve Center into a homeless shelter.

Since themayor’s proposal would have killed the plans for redeveloping the Kingsbridge Armory, many Bronxites couldn’t be happier.

“The mayor’s proposal is just ignoring the needs of the area. We don’t need another homeless shelter,” Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition’s Kingsbrigde Armory Redevelopment Alliance campaign. “He’s thwarting our efforts to get the armory redeveloped and to get a school built there. This is an act of retaliation because we stopped them from coming in to redevelop the armory how they wanted.”

Earlier this month, Diaz along with two deputy mayors, were set to vote on wether to build a homeless shelter in the Muller building. However, Diaz, who is against the shelter, did not show at the meeting to cast his vote. Because the two deputy mayors were expected to vote for the project, if Diaz attended the meeting the outcome would have been a two to one vote in favor off the shelter.

Since the borough president ditched on the vote, the process for selecting a use for the abandoned building was sent back to square one and is now in the hands of the Department of Defense, which controls the site.

Those in charge of the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory have proposed that the National Guard, which currently occupies a portion of the armory property, move into the Muller building. The move would free up space to put a school in the armory, which is one of the fundamental ideas for the redevelopment.

“I am hopeful the Department of Defense will see the wisdom in continuing to use this site for military purposes and I look forward to working with them to make that plan a reality,” Diaz said. “Adding another shelter to this community is wrong. Especially when a viable alternative use for the MARC is on the table. It is shameful that this administration has ignored the collective voice of the Bronx and pushed forward with this homeless shelter plan.”

For several years, KARA has been working to redevelop the armory as a mixed-use development that will include retail, educational, entertainment, recreation and service jobs that pay according to the “living wage” standards. That means at least $10 per hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without benefits for all employees.

In March 2008, the city selected Related Companies to redevelop the building into a retail center. The company would have invested about $310 million in the property and created an estimated 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs, few would have been “living wage” jobs.

Because of the types of employment, community leaders fought to get the city council to vote against the project.

“The community never wanted this to be a mall,” Pilgrim-Hunter said. “We’re the poorest urban community in the country, so we need jobs. In the long term, it would have put the next generation into poverty.”

Related Company’s proposal was shot down a year ago. Since then the building has remained without a tenant and without employees.

According to Pilgrim-Hunter, KARA has recently reignited talks with several groups, such as the YMCA, about moving into the armory. However, she expects any redevelopment will probably not be solidified for at least another five years.

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