February 7, 2013 at 11:29 AM
By Alex Kratz
Negotiations are heating up for what could be a landmark benefits agreement between a grassroots community group and a developer looking to take over the Kingsbridge Armory. But both sides are playing their cards close to their vests as the city negotiates with both of the finalists who want to redevelop the Armory.
For the past month, the Economic Development Corporation, which is handling the Armory project for the city, has said they are in the “final stages” of negotiations with the two development groups — Young Woo & Associates, a Manhattan design firm, and the partners for the Kingsbridge Armory National Ice Center (KNIC), headed by former Deutsche Bank executive Kevin Parker.
Last week, representatives from the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a melding of community groups born out of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, and KNIC met face-to-face twice to work out a binding community benefits agreement that would be in addition to whatever deal the developer works out with the city.
After an initial meeting at the Bronx Library Center, the two sides met again at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. They were scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at an undisclosed location that changed last-minute on Tuesday morning.
Neither side is divulging details about the talks, but KARA has made it clear a final agreement should contain wage and community space guarantees, local hiring benchmarks, funding job training and other community programs, as well as environmental protections. KARA developed a draft benefits agreement with the input of Community Board 7 in January.
A spokesperson for KNIC wouldn’t answer specific questions about negotiations and reiterated that they “look forward to continued dialogue with the community and City, and will remain open to suggestions for additional community benefits that are within reason and allow us to move forward with our grand vision for this iconic landmark.”
Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, who participated in the talks for KARA, wouldn’t talk about the specifics of the negotiations, but did say she thought they were going well. She said the secrecy would hopefully ensure productive negotiations with the developer and lead to an “historic agreement.”
KNIC has been lobbying the city to re-open the Armory, vacant since 1994, for nearly two years. Their interest in the landmarked building sparked a formal request for proposals that Mayor Bloomberg announced in his State of the City address early last year.
After receiving a load of political support in August from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and other local officials, it appeared KNIC had the inside track to win the bid. At the time, the EDC was expected to make a decision by the end of September.
Meanwhile, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, whose district includes the Armory, stayed neutral while encouraging both developers to work out a community benefits package. Ultimately, Cabrera will play a large role in determining whether the project is approved by the Council.
Young Woo inserted itself into the conversation with its vision of the Armory as “Mercado Mirabo,” a mixed-use, flexible market that would also offer retail, recreation, entertainment and business incubator space.
Adam Zucker, who is working on the Armory project for Young Woo, said he has seen a copy of the draft community benefits agreement that KARA is using to negotiate with KNIC. He said Young Woo agreed to KARA’s community benefit principles earlier in the process, but KARA refused to accept them in writing at the time.
Ed. Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Feb. 7-20 print edition of the Norwood News. It has been updated from an earlier version that appeared online.