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Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Neverending' Armory Negotiations Update

I loved the headline for today's Daily News story on the ongoing (and going) negotiations over the Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall proposal: "NEVERENDING DEAL" in huge type. Very accurate.

From what we hear, the Bronx delegation and the city aren't much closer to striking a community benefits agreement that would include living wage job guarantees. Word is the Council is going to string this out until Monday, the drop dead deadline for an Armory decision.

But that doesn't mean there hasn't been extensive discussions and plenty of action.

Last night, some Council members and staffers were trading ideas with administration staffers until almost midnight. Today, discussions went from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Just to quickly recap, the Bronx delegation has said they will vote down the Related Companies proposal to turn the Armory into a shopping mall unless there is an agreement in place that would guarantee employees at the revamped old drill hall a living wage ($10 an hour, plus benefits).

The latest proposal, which would not require Armory tenants to pay their workers a living wage, but instead would create a sort of wage fund that would subsidize workers' pay checks, is being vehemently opposed by the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) and their allies, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU).

"All Bloomberg is offering is a 'Bah Humbug' and a lump of coal," said KARA's Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter after meeting with members of the Bronx City Council delegation. "This is a bad deal for the Bronx and all New Yorkers and we are calling on the Council to vote it down. The so-called living wage fund that the Administration is proposing is nothing but a subsidized poverty fund. It doesn't mandate employers to pay living wages.Low wage workers are already on food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8. We don't need to subsidize poverty we need a mandatory living wage paid by employers!"

"Bronx workers need a living wage. But Mike Bloomberg, the richest man in New York, feels $10 an hour is too much to pay working people. His proposals would condemn them to a life of poverty wages and reliance on charity. Workers in the Bronx need jobs with living wages and benefits," said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and a co-convener of KARA.

Here's a few details on the wage proposal being pushed by the Bloomberg administration and Related, a proposal that the Bronx delegation is currently weighing.

-The city would give Related a $1 million discount on the sale price of the Armory, dropping the price from $5 million to $4 million. (Blue book on the Armory is somewhere around $20 million.)

-In exchange, Related would give up an additional 18,000 square feet of retail space (in addition to the 27,000 square feet they will be setting aside for community space.

-That 45,000 square feet will be operated by some kind of nonprofit wage fund organization that would use the rent profits of that space and the initial infusion of the $4 million sale price to subsidize the paychecks of Armory mall workers.

-At this point, only retail workers at the Armory would be eligible, meaning anyone working at the cinema or in the mall's food court would be out of luck.

-It's still unclear whether this would amount of funding would be enough to get Armory employees up to a living wage.

-The city and delegation have discussed additional benefits, but it's unclear exactly what those would include.

This appears to be the furthest the city and Related is willing to go at this at this point. It's also the best wage deal ever offered for a city-subsidized project. (But that's not saying much, given the Bloomberg administration's strong aversion to setting any kind of wage or benefits requirements on development deals.)

Bloomberg is now injecting himself into the conversation, where before it was just his Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber and the staff of the Economic Development Corporation. At one point earlier today, he walked into the Council office where the Bronx delegation was meeting, grabbed a bag of popcorn, and hung out for a while. It's no secret he wants this deal to go through.

Meanwhile, Council Speaker Christine Quinn refuses to publicly take a side on the Armory issue. Yesterday, when I asked for her stance, she declined to say (like a steamroller running over an ant) whether she supported living wage job guarantees at city-subsidized projects like the Armory.

We'll find out in the next few days if the Bronx delegation takes the offer and moves the project forward or is willing to vote down the project without a more substantial guarantee of living wage.

Feel free to weigh in here in the comments section. Do you think this is a good deal for the Bronx? Do you think the plan should be scrapped and we should start all over? We want to hear from you.


  1. this is what i posted on facebook... and in an earlier post here:

    those who are fighting for a living wage at the kingsbridge armory are to be heartily commended. not only would the living wage concept impact this project, but it would set the right precedent for the future so that public subsidies for developers require some payback to the public.

    however, the deal that's on the table... that the living wage would be paid for by PUBLIC monies is unacceptable... and really when you think about it... IT'S INSANE! if this is the deal, then bronx people have been negotiating against themselves the whole time.

    the center of this fight is not so that the public coffers, which are stripped bare as it is, subsidize the big developers, it's so that the for-profits themselves pay for what they earn.

    who cooked up this idea? it makes no sense. it would mean essentially, that community members would pay for their raise out of their own pockets! and especially after all this time of standing strong... THAT'S NUTS!

    if the city council delegation goes for this, man, the mayor and related are playing them for fools. it's a cave-in.

    i vote no... and send a HUGE message to EVERYONE involved that the Bronx will not be bullied and if it means that related walks... show them the plank. there are other developers out there to take on this project.

    this wasn't about having the public pay for their own wage subsidies but having those who benefitted from the tax subsidies pay their share. if the currently- proposed deal goes down, well, then, chalk it up as another pie in the face for the bronx.

  2. A new law will go into effect next month that will allow bicyclists to carry their bikes inside any New York City building with a freight elevator. This is very PC/EC; fits in very well with Bloomberg's Green NYC.

    How about "Greening the Armory workers" with a living wage instead of a sub-poverty $7.50 per hour with no benefits. Walmart might not be welcome in NYC, but the Walmart model certainly is...low wages and let the the government pick up the workers' health care costs.

  3. Why is it cities like Boston and Baltimore (one of the poorest cities) can demand a fair living wage if developers or companies take city funds, but NYC, the most expensive city in the US, has a super rich mayor who gives developers land at bargain prices and then says let the poor workers eat cake. If they have enough food stamps to buy the cake.


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