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Prayers for Kingsbridge Armory at City Hall

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Bronx residents harmonized on the steps of City Hall on Thursday, December 3 and asked City Council members to resist compromise in the battle for living wage jobs at the Kingsbridge Armory. Council members hinted that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new proposal.

“Oh, our armory. Oh, our armory,” the small group sang. “Before we take minimum wage, we’ll be buried in our graves and go home to our Lord and be free.”

Members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a group spearheaded by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, traveled to City Hall in hopes that the City Council subcommittee on zoning and franchises and/or committee on land use would vote to oppose The Related Companies’ plan to build a shopping mall at the 575,000-square foot landmark.

But both subcommittee and committee tabled the issue for a later date. The City Council has through Monday, December 14 to okay or oppose the plan, although it appeared that members would use a loophole on Wednesday, December 9 to push that deadline to Monday, December 21.

KARA, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and key members of the Bronx City Council Delegation want Related to sign a community benefits agreement that would guarantee living wages – $10 an hour plus benefits – for retail workers at the planned mall. The developer has refused. Related has argued that such a guarantee would damage its attempts to lure top retailers and would render the mall un-buildable. Diaz Jr. and Bronx Delegation members have met with the developer but negotiations remain stalled.

Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber are behind Related and against a community benefits agreement. But the Bloomberg and Lieber have proffered two possible compromises, Councilman Oliver Koppell said. Related could lease armory community space to retailers and use the extra revenue to pay the difference between some retail workers’ paychecks and a living wage, Koppell explained. Or the city itself could pay the difference, he added. Koppell thinks the latter would make more sense. Related lawyer Jesse Masyr expects 500 of 1,200 jobs at the planned mall to offer living wages. On Wednesday, December 2, the Working Families Party moved to back KARA.

“We’re still in discussions with the [Bloomberg] administration and Related,” Bronx Delegation chair-to-be Annabel Palma said. “But we plan to stand strong.”

City Council majority leader Joel Rivera is opposed to a mall sans benefits agreement. Masyr has stated that Rivera may have enough City Council votes to stop the plan.

“We want to make sure that the [redeveloped] Kingsbridge Armory benefits not only the developers but [Kingsbridge Heights] residents as well,” Rivera said.

Subcommittee on zoning and franchises chair Tony Avella thinks Bloomberg could instruct Related to budge on living wages. Related has questioned whether it would make sense for the Bronx to turn down more than 2,000 jobs but Avella expects that another developer would step forward. Koppell disagreed.

Some have suggested that the City Council pass a comprehensive living wage law that would apply at the armory and elsewhere. But that would take months and months, Rivera said. There isn’t time.

Koppell has yet to state whether he will oppose or okay Related’s plan. The councilman held a town hall meeting on Monday, December 7. Some 60 people attended; most were members of KARA, Koppell said. The councilman agrees that less than $10 an hour plus benefits isn’t enough to support a family. Related’s plan is

Koppell doesn’t want to see Related’s armory plan “fall apart” and suggested that even 500 living wage jobs would be valuable. First Union Baptist youth minister Joseph Shaw disagreed. The Bronx has no use for low wage jobs, Shaw said. KARA member Kwasi Akyeampong hopes that Bloomberg will change his mind.

“We’re religious people,” Akyeampong said. “Maybe God will touch Scrooge’s heart before Christmas.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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