Oliver Koppell invited his constituents to offer him advice on how he should vote on the proposal to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping mall.
And about 65 people – many of whom have been active in the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance’s battle for a Community Benefits Agreement that includes a living wage requirement -- attended the meeting at the Bedford Park Multi-Service Center for Senior Citizens last night. All who spoke – save one member of a construction union – begged Koppell to vote no on the project for all of the reasons that have been cited in previous meetings and in dozens of news reports.
But Koppell, who sat alone at a long table quietly taking notes and occasionally responding as people talked in two-minute speeches, didn’t budge from his contention that low-wage jobs were better than no jobs at all.
“If you want to be responsible for an empty building for next 10 years, that’s you,” Koppell said, a bit angrily. “I don’t want to be responsible for that.”
But all the speakers clearly preferred it to stay empty rather than give over a public building with public subsidies to a mall developer who won’t guarantee a living wage for employees of its retail tenants.
“We are willing to go without until we get what is right,” said one speaker, echoing the overwhelming sentiment in the room. (Even us professional journalists occasionally forget to write down names next to quotes in our notebook – argh!)
Koppell did say he was going to push legislation to require a living wage across the board for developers who receive public subsidies, a move people in the meeting were please with. But he insisted there was no way to compel an individual company to do it without a law.
The crowd wasn’t buying it. “They will do it if you push them!” more than one person yelled out.
Anne Gibbons of Kingsbridge urged Koppell to vote no and laid blame for the unpopular project at the feet of Mayor Bloomberg. He is the “17th richest man on the planet and he doesn’t support a living wage,” she said. “This is obscene.”
Koppell, whose district abuts but does not include the Armory, came asking for advice and he got an earful. But he appeared to be taking none of it, leaving him as the only Bronx Council member publicly bucking the borough president’s push for the living wage provision.
Ed. note: A vote may come in the Council tomorrow (Wed.) but as I write this at 4 p.m. the situation is very fluid with negotiations among the City Council’s Bronx delegation and Related Companies ongoing. We’ll have more later this afternoon and possibly this evening. Keep checking back on the blog to get the latest.