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Bronx Times
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FreshDirect’s plans to open on the Port Morris waterfront are being stymied by the local congressman blocking a major chunk of taxpayer funding.

South Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano is vowing to use his decisive vote to block a $3 million loan and $500,000 cash grant the grocer was set to receive from the local federal Empowerment Zone.

“I don’t support it, I didn’t support it and I won’t support it,” Serrano vowed. “I’m sure they have all the money they needed to put it together. That was the impression they gave the world.”

Holdout vote

FreshDirect has already accepted around $127 million in subsidies, most in the form of exemptions from real estate taxes on their new headquarters planned for the Harlem River Yards.

The company was set to net $3.5 million more in EZ funding, set aside to spur job growth in distressed neighborhoods. Serrano’s congressional district is the poorest in the nation, and, and Fresh Direct has promised to bring 1,000 jobs and 644 construction jobs to the area over the next decade.

But the Long Island City-based company pulled its $3.5 million request from the EZ’s December agenda after Serrano made his opposition clear at the Dec. 18 meeting of the group’s Board of Directors.

Though the other voices on the Board —the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (BOEDC), the city’s Economic Development Corp., and the state’s Empire Development Agency — have long supported incentivizing FreshDirect’s move, EZ money can only be allocated in a unanimous vote.

An agreement stymied

Serrano’s opposition now means that the borough is unable to hold up its end of the bargain outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreement FreshDirect signed with the borough president’s office in February 2012.

So far, FreshDirect has held up its end, expanding delivery to every Bronx zip code and accepting EBT food stamps. But the MOU called for the company to receive the $3.5 million EZ money Serrano vows to block.

Serrano expressed skepticism that the company would follow through on its promises as only one reason why he opposes the funding.

“One of the things you are going to see is a lot of scrutiny about how public funds are used in the future,” Serrano said. “There’s a lot of doubt about these so-called thousand jobs.”

Moving forward

A spokesman for the company confirmed that FreshDirect is moving forward despite the funding snag, and hopes to be operational at its new location by 2015.

Marlene Cintron, president of the BOEDC, said she was confident that the company would follow through on its promise to employ hundreds of locals, even if Serrano continues to block the EZ funding.

“The only reason they are moving is because they are bursting at the seams,” she said. “I’m confident that a thousand more people will be hired. The people out there in the street need these jobs.”

Ben Kochman can be reached via e-mail at BKochman@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742–3394
Updated 4:56 pm, July 9, 2018
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