By Ruben Diaz Jr.
Bronx Borough President
One year ago, I joined with two other borough presidents, the former public advocate, and 50 City Council members to send a strong message to those who would do business in our city: if you demand heavy taxpayer subsidies to make your project work, you must be prepared to do better for the communities you seek to serve.
The Related Cos. proposed shopping mall that was slated for the Kingsbridge Armory failed this test, and that is why so much of the City’s elected leadership stood together to see the project halted. This was not a moment for celebration, however, even though critics of the defeat will claim that it was. My office’s economic development arm, the Bronx Overall Economic Development Agency, has been working to bring new businesses to our borough, and has put forward nearly $25 million in low-interest loans this year to support our borough’s economy.
But at the Kingsbridge Armory, we saw a developer taking millions of dollars in tax subsidies to create a shopping mall that not only would have created hundreds of poverty level jobs but would have also destroyed the small businesses on the Fordham Road retail corridor. A taxpayer-funded mall would have drained customers from this retail strip and killed hundreds of jobs. Supporters of the retail mall need to ask themselves if government should be subsidizing mega-corporations at the expense of small businesses that do not receive subsidies of their own.
An entire coalition has built up around the idea that government subsidies should lead to better jobs, and the “living wage” bill, the “Fair Wages for New Yorkers” act, which has been introduced in the City Council at my behest will make sure that happens. When developers ask for charity in the form of taxpayer dollars, the jobs they create must pay well enough to offer individuals a chance to climb out of their own poverty.
As for the future of the Kingsbridge Armory I do not subscribe to the idea, put forth by Mayor Bloomberg, that it will remain empty for the next decade. This year I organized the Kingsbridge Armory Task Force. This task force is working to develop a new plan for this historic structure that will include multiple uses geared towards community revitalization. In the spring, this task force with the help from the New York University Capstone Program, will put forward a comprehensive plan for the Kingsbridge Armory, and I am hopeful that Mayor Bloomberg will be willing to work together with my office to see it implemented.
Many of those who opposed the result of the Kingsbridge Armory project are opposed not only to living wage legislation but to the minimum wage as well. Critics should take a step back and, rather than focus on the negative, work with us to develop a positive way forward for this structure and the Bronx as a whole. I, unlike many of those same critics, am ready to listen.
Spanish-language version of this column.