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Ruben Diaz Jr. asks mayor to work with him on Kingsbridge Armory
The Riverdale Press
Adam Wisnieski

March 2, 2011
View the Original Article

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in his second State of the Borough address on Feb. 24 that there is great interest in developing the Kingsbridge Armory and invited Mayor Michael Bloomberg to join him to responsibly develop the structure.

Toward the end of Mr. Diaz’s long speech, themed “One Bronx” or “Un Solo Bronx,” he addressed the Armory issue, the battle over which earned him a reputation for speaking out against the mayor.

He told the crowd in the auditorium of DeWitt Clinton High School that health care, cultural and educational institutions; big players in the film industry; sports companies and the YMCA have come to him with plans for the Armory.

Mr. Diaz Jr. specifically mentioned Kaufmann-Astoria, a Long Island City-based studio where 30 Rock and Gossip Girl are filmed and which once housed filming for Sex and the City and the Sopranos and Silvercup, an Astoria-based film studio where Sesame Street is filmed. He also gave a nod to New York Arena Management, which offered a plan to convert part of the Armory into a sports arena.

In 2009, Mr. Diaz shot down a mayor-backed plan to have the Armory developed into a mall because the developer, The Related Companies would not commit to paying the workers a living wage.

Since then, Mr. Diaz has created a Kingsbridge Armory Task Force to come up with constructive development ideas. In the speech, Mr. Diaz said the mayor’s shopping mall plan would have killed Fordham Road.

“Nobody can argue that Fordham Road, which sits one subway stop away from the Kingsbridge Armory, would not have been devastated by a retail mall,” he said.

Mr. Diaz said a report to be released this spring by New York University’s Capstone Program, which will provide potential designs and plans for the building, “must be the cornerstone of a new RFP [Request for Proposal].” Mr. Diaz then addressed the living wage legislation that gained momentum after he shot down the mayor’s mall plan.

“Responsible redevelopment means that whatever plan we choose has a direct positive impact on all citizens, not an elite few,” he said.

Mr. Diaz said more than $11 billion in new development has taken place in the Bronx — the borough with the highest poverty rate of any urban county in the nation — since 2002.

He said the living wage bill, co-sponsored by Councilman Oliver Koppell and currently backed by 29 council members — addresses inequity in the borough.

The bill would require development projects receiving taxpayer subsidies to offer “living wage jobs” — defined as paying at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without.

After the speech, Mr. Koppell said he loved Mr. Diaz’s energy and enthusiasm and called him a “prime mover” on the living wage legislation.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said he thought the speech was inspiring and that Mr. Diaz has been able to create a new sense of unity among Bronx politicians. The 17-year veteran assemblyman said he also backed Mr. Diaz on the Armory.

After the address, Mr. Diaz reiterated his belief that living wage legislation would boost the economy, not cripple it, as the mayor has suggested.

The crowd included the borough president’s father state Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, City Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York State Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and others. Rabbi Barry Dov Katz of Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale gave an invocation before the speech.

Mr. Diaz addressed other issues facing the Bronx, including bringing new businesses to the borough and keeping the ones already here. One such business is the Hunts Point Market, which has been flirting with the idea of moving to New Jersey. Mr. Diaz also said he would pursue bringing a first-class hotel to the Yankee Stadium area, to continue the success of the “Peace in Our Streets” initiative against gun violence, to work toward ridding schools of PCBs and greening the Bronx.