Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a pastor whose church and condo are just a few blocks from the Kingsbridge Armory, is holding out his final blessing of a new ice sports complex proposed to fill the long-vacant, historic building.
The City Planning Commission approved the Kingsbridge National Ice Center last week, leaving City Council approval and signage by the mayor the only hurdles left before KNIC can turn the Kingsbridge Armory into the largest skating arena in the country. Traditionally, the council defers to local members when deciding how to vote on big development projects, meaning Cabrera’s support hangs in the balance.
After the planning commission vote, Cabrera’s support was conspicuously absent from a press release sent out by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who has pledged his unyielding support since the proposal became public. The release featured several prominent officials praising the project, but Cabrera was quiet and could not be reached for comment.
His chief-of-staff, Greg Faulkner, said community concerns over traffic, parking and other community issues that come with bringing 5,000 people to an arena have “gotten louder,” with 100 letters submitted to Community Board 7. The ice center, which will feature nine full-sized rinks, is expected to bring in a million visitors a year.
But two political insiders who did not want to be named because they want to see the deal go through say Cabrera’s case of cold feet has more to do with jockeying for power — something he’s has been doing throughout the Community Benefits Agreement process.
“He was constantly moving the goalpost as to what was required for him to support the project,” one of them said.
Four sources, including two directly involved with CBA negotiations between the developer and 27 community organizations represented by the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, said that after the deal was agreed upon, Cabrera tried to get KNIC to funnel $100,000 annually for the next 99 years to Community Action Unlimited, an organization he controls.
The alleged attempt to steer money Cabrera’s way was unsuccessful. Cabrera did, however, get changes made to the composition of the advisory board that will oversee the CBA if the deal goes through, according to Alice McIntosh, a KARA leader and a facilitator of the negotiations.
KNIC and KARA had gone through 30 hours of negotiations with Faulkner in the room and had finally come to an agreement and sent the paperwork to their respective lawyers when Cabrera raised concerns about the make- up of the Community Advisory Council, according to McIntosh. “At that time, Cabrera wanted to make some changes to the agreement,” she said.
Originally, there were to be five members on the CAC, which will, among other things, make recommendations about what type of services and/or activities will be provided in the 50,000 square feet of community space.
But McIntosh said Cabrera insisted on more members and a majority voting system. “We changed it based on his recommendations,” she said.
The final agreement allowed for Cabrera’s office, Community Board 7 and KARA to each have three representatives. CB 7 chooses a community representative and the CB 7 chair chooses which board members will serve.
Cabrera praised the agreement and the ice center at a press conference in April.
“Let me tell you what I’m really excited about,” he gushed while flanked by elected officials included Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I’m excited about the young people that are gonna be able to come here, especially those people of color.”
He was quoted in the press release as saying “I’m glad to see that the project has a comprehensive community benefits agreement that is going to bring changes to District 14, the Bronx and beyond.”
In a photo courtesy of the Mayor’s Office from April, smiling for the cameras are Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, recently named KNIC CEO and hockey legend Mark Messier, figure skater Sarah Hughes, Kingsbridge National Ice Center founder Kevin Parker, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Councilman Fernando Cabrera and then-Community Board 7 Chair Paul Foster.
The Norwood News obtained a 12-page letter dated July 23 and sent on City Council letterhead from Cabrera to Kevin Parker, who leads the group behind the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, requesting a long list of changes to the CBA. Among his complaints was what he called a “toothless” monitoring committee.
Now, as the council vote nears, Cabrera remains the lone local elected official not enthusiastically behind the project. For Councilman Oliver Koppell, whose district used to cover the Armory and who has been hoping for a sports facility there for more than a decade, it’s a dream come true. He dismissed traffic concerns, saying most spectators would likely use one of the nearby train lines and that the facility holds about 5,000 people, not 55,000 like Yankee Stadium.
“In my opinion, this represents the most positive development that I can imagine, to be honest with you, for [Cabrera’s] district…The whole neighborhood’s going to be upgraded,” he said.
But he hasn’t heard anywhere near the same enthusiasm from Cabrera. “All I hear from Cabrera is that he hasn’t been willing to commit to it,” Koppell said.
A group of sponsors and CBA signatories are holding a meeting on Nov. 21 at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, 2345 University Ave., to officially announce the Community Benefits Agreement.
“…The purpose of the meeting is to bring the community together to do two things,” McIntosh said. “One, to roll out the Community Benefits Agreement to let everyone in the community know the benefits we will be receiving, and two, to galvanize the community and hopefully influence the vote by showing the City Council that the community supports this project.”
A council vote is expected by the end of the year.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date of a letter from Cabrera to the developer.