Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and Council majority leader Joel Rivera joined members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance at City Hall on Thursday, March 5 to protest Related Companies’ request for $17.8 million in tax breaks. Community Board 7 stood behind the exemptions.
Last April, a joint taskforce chose Related to restore the Kingsbridge Amory, a nine-story brick behemoth between E. 195th Street and Kingsbridge Road. Tough questions remain. Will Related negotiate a community benefits agreement? Will the Armory house a school? Will the Morton Williams Associated Supermarket survive? National Guard units abandoned the Armory in 1996.
“Do I want the Armory to sit and fall apart?” said Katrina Foster, Fordham pastor and KARA member. “No. But its redevelopment must benefit this community.”
Representatives from KARA, CB 7 and the borough president’s office held talks with the city’s Economic Development Corporation last year. Related is redeveloping the Bronx Terminal Market.
According to firm spokeswoman Joanna Rose, Related will spend more than $323 million on the project. In the works: an enormous Armory mall, 400 parking spots, a community center and open public space.
Related has requested exemption from a variety of city and state taxes, citing expenses unique to the Armory. The firm will follow guidelines established by the state’s historic preservation office and will offer community groups below-market rent.
“We believe [the exemptions] are necessary to make this project feasible,” EDC spokeswoman Janel Patterson said.
Meanwhile, KARA members are determined to negotiate a community benefits agreement – sooner rather than later. The agreement could include a $10/hour minimum wage for Armory retail workers, a local hiring ordinance and 60,000 square feet for community groups.
Although KARA asked Related to reserve space for a school, the firm’s final RFP includes no such commitment, Foster said. Related negotiated a community benefits agreement prior to its redevelopment of the Bronx Terminal Market. Some Bronxites hailed that pact as groundbreaking. Others dismissed it as superficial.
“We want this project to happen,” Paul Karr of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union said. “We also want people out of poverty. Related has refused to negotiate.”
RWDU, a KARA member, represents Morton Williams workers. KARA has sought to block Related from leasing Armory space to a high-end supermarket. CB7 has advocated for a Morton Williams competitor.
The Armory project has yet to enter the city’s official land-use review.
“I wrote a letter asking the IDA to grant these exemptions,” CB7 chair Greg Faulkner said. “This project will come before the community board and the City Council. We will negotiate a community benefits agreement.”
CB7 land-use chair Ozzie Brown hopes the Armory’s redevelopment will include a “world peace atrium.” The atrium could feature a water fountain, Brown said.
Karr believes KARA’s time is running out. Once Related secures public financing, the firm won’t need to negotiate an agreement, he said. Patterson disagreed.
“There will be ample time for community input,” she said.