The seeds of gentrification are already being sown in the shadow of the cavernous Kingsbridge Armory.
Small shops near the massive future home of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center are seeing shorter renewal leases and jacked up rents by scheming landlords.
The center, pegged as the world’s largest rink, is being compared as a local game changing gold mine.
“This is prime real estate now,” declared Nancy Fernandez, who owns Divino Pharmacy on the east end. “The merchants don’t know what’s coming to them.”
Fernandez oversees the Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association, supporting the 269 minority-owned restaurants, clothing and bodega stores lining the six-block stretch, with pockets of big chains such as Duane Reade, Chase Bank and McDonald’s sprinkled about.
KRMA vice president and local shoe store owner Christian Ramos, discovered some merchants’ leases were unexpectedly reduced.
“We saw this at 125th Street,” he said of Harlem Renaissance in the early 2000s that displaced small businesses for big chains. “When [President] Bill Clinton opened an office, there were a lot of other stores coming.”
KRMA has already drafted a petition demanding leases and rents remain steady. They are to meet with the New York Lawyers Alliance Oct. l to discuss strategy.
But flipping leases has already begun to sweep Kingsbridge.
One longtime merchant, whose name was withheld out of fear of his landlord, was recently offered a fixed four-year lease instead of his usual ten-years. The rink is expected to open in 2018, with a million visitors expected each year.
Several blocks down, Kings Wine & Liquors owner Hyuk Kwon received a shorter three year new lease.
“Three years is nothing,” said Ramos. “It’s supposed to be five years minimum.”
Carlos Nieves, 20-year owner of Flowers By Carlos, was denied a ten-year lease, maintaining his regular month-to-month lease.
Residential properties have already seen steadily higher rents in Kingsbridge, Norwood and Bedford Park, while prices on potential sites have jumped, according to Karl Brumback with Massey Knakal Realty.
“We’ve seen price increases on development site properties up sharply 25%-40% in the past year,” said Brumback, noting renewed interest in Kingsbridge is partly a result of the rink project. Prices on empty storefronts have also jumped.
“That would certainly be an early sign of gentrification,” said Richard Hudson, sociology professor at Mercy College, adding the price hike suggests landlords are aiming to attract a different kind of store.
Gentrification has been a heavy topic discussed by KNIC officials and community groups originally suspicious of whether they’ll be left out of impending progress.
A finalized Community Benefits Agreement helped secure $1.7 billion in benefits to locals over the 99-year life of KNIC’s city lease, including a 50,000-square-foot community space in the armory and an annual 1% rink revenue share, quelling concerns of class warfare.
But the CBA offers little to sustain established merchants who’ve long backed the project, holding on long enough to bank on the rink’s business draw, even as rents steadily climb.
Despite the rise in rents and shortened leases, the armory’s Environmental Impact Study stated the project would have no “significant adverse impacts related to socioeconomic conditions.”
The CBA does provide $250,000 to businesses for capital projects.
“It’s not surprising for property owners to cash in once the armory is built,” said Scot Hirschfeld with Ariel Properties, a real estate firm. “Whether these store owners will be able to run a business, time will tell.”
For now, storeowners await 2018 when the rink opens to anticipated fanfare.
“We want to preserve the mom and pops,” said KRMA’s Fernandez. “Why would they be kicked out for positive change?”