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Armory Development Project is No-Go Without 'Living Wage'
NY Daily News
Ruben Diaz, Jr.

September 15, 2009
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When I was elected to serve as Bronx borough president in April, I made it clear that I would be a fighter for the 1.4 million residents of this great borough. Being a fighter means standing up for what is right and just, and refusing to bow down to special interests who would seek to do business in our community without addressing the needs of Bronx residents.

That is why I felt it was my responsibility to say "no" to the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory in my recommendation to the City Planning Commission last week. I will continue to withhold my support for this project until its developer, the Related Cos., negotiates and delivers on a real community benefits agreement that allows, both the community to prosper and the developer to profit.

In response to my "no" vote, Related declared that although those of us pushing for a community benefits agreement have good intentions, we do not understand the realities of large-scale development.

What I do understand, however, is that Related stands to benefit from millions in tax breaks and other government-funded subsidies for participating In this development project - tax dollars made available through the labor of our Bronx working class.

Not only has Related been given the opportunity to purchase the Kingsbridge Armory at a bargain-basement price, the company also stands to benefit from millions of dollars in additional tax benefits.

These are benefits that were not afforded to those businesses that stayed in the Bronx during our darkest days, such as many of the supermarkets that surround the Kingsbridge Armory. Nor are they afforded to the many small businesses across the city.

In exchange for those benefits, my office has teamed up with elected officials and the community to put forward a reasonable list of requests that we have asked Related to meet in order to win our approval.

Among other things, our concerns include the future tenants of that retail center, the impact those businesses will have on the area's existing retail community and the potential traffic nightmare this new mall could bring to the neighborhood.

But more than anything, I am fighting to make sure that this development includes "living wage" jobs that offer health insurance. When a company is set to make hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term profits while collecting significant government subsidies, those new jobs should provide a decent salary.

About a $10-an-hour living wage, with benefits, is a very legitimate request and one that Related, if it wanted, could agree to. And judging from the support my office has received since my recommendation, the people of the Bronx agree with me.

I am hopeful that, in the very near future, my office will be able to sit down with Related and come to terms on a strong community benefits agreement that includes provisions for living-wage jobs.

Until that happens, I cannot support this project. It is too often that development in our borough is decided from the top, without taking into account the needs of the communities that are directly affected by these projects. In my administration, this will not be the case.

My door will always be open to those major corporations that want to do business in the Bronx, but they must understand that the jobs they provide must offer Bronxites a chance to not only take pride in their work, but to earn a decent living.

Diaz is the Bronx borough president.