Fernando Cabrera Leaning Towards ‘No’ Vote On Armory

by David Cruz

On the cusp of the full New York City Council voting on the game changing Kingsbridge National Ice Center, members of a Council subcommittee heard overwhelming support for the project even as the Council’s swing voter continued to flip-flop on whether to approve or reject the project.

The City Council is now reviewing the redevelopment plan for the Kingsbridge Armory, with community leaders overwhelmingly supporting the project.

Councilman Fernando Cabrera, where the cavernous armory falls under his district, slammed the project by KNIC partners, offering his first concrete opinion on the project.

“Until the developer is willing to engage in a consistent and meaningful discussion I will urge my colleagues to vote no on this project,” said Cabrera, reading a statement during the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.

The Council-sponsored body was the first to hear comments on the project’s impact on the community, part of the final step in the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

Cabrera’s concerns were largely focused on traffic issues, peppering developers over how they would handle burgeoning logjams related to the  world’s largest ice center.

With an estimated 7,000 skaters expected to arrive to the center daily, according to KNIC figures, Cabrera charged the center would create enormous backups to an area already squeezed by traffic issues.  Cabrera, under a cloud of suspicion for allegedly asking KNIC developers to earmark $100,000 for his defunct religious nonprofit, appeared to seize the opportunity to hit back at the same developers who’ve confirmed the recent Norwood News published report on Cabrera’s alleged shakedown.

But accusations aside, Cabrera was largely focused on traffic issues during the lengthy December 5th hearing inside Council Chambers.   Supporters of the KNIC plan, particularly its developers, shot back at Cabrera’s claims over traffic tie-ups, saying the center’s impending 457-space parking garage will be able to handle the influx.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., arguably the sports complex’s biggest fan,  stated in his testimony that there is no “legitimate report or study that shows us that the traffic with the Armory being developed is going to create that much of an adverse effect.”

Mark Messier, New York Rangers legend and newly-installed CEO of KNIC, said skating customers “will be spread out.”

“There won’t be an influx of 5,000-6,000 visitors over any single hour,” Messier countered.

KNIC’s lawyer, Ross Moskowitz, also testified, assuring Cabrera the city Department of Transportation will monitor undisclosed traffic conditions once it’s open.  Should congestion prove to be an issue then new measures will be installed.

Cabrera also took issue with parking, already a premium at the densely populated neighborhood given the commercial corridor and heavy use by students at nearby Lehman College, just north of the armory.  Many students often rely on the free street parking instead of fee-for-parking spots within the campus, making it difficult to secure daylong parking.

In one exchange with Vincent Clark, an administrator for Lehman College, Cabrera emphasized many students would prefer free spots to ease the financial burden, but the lack of squeezed parking would make it difficult should the project be built.   Cabrera suggested Lehman revisit an idea to lift the fee-for-parking policy, freeing spaces.

“The Borough President presented that four years ago,” said Cabrera.  “It’s interesting that’s not being brought up now.”

He also switched topics, focusing on the behind-the-scenes saga involving the Community Benefits Agreement, penned between KNIC and 27 community groups that guaranteed $10 living wage for all 267 jobs expected, 50,000 square feet of community space and a 1% yearly revenue share with the community and other perks within the course of 99 years, the length of the lease.

Cabrera, with an underlying biting tone, questioned Alice McIntosh, head of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, over her initial misgivings over the KNIC project when the New York City Economic Development Corporation vetted the project against one by Youngwoo & Associates, who intended to develop an entertainment recreation center dubbed Mercado Mirabo.

At one point McIntosh denied telling the EDC the KNIC project would not work for the working class community.  That was until Cabrera referenced an EDC document along with a published report by The Black Observer.

“You did communicate with EDC, we have it on the record, that you said that ‘we should not be doing cartwheels over this project, and in The Black Observer, it has you quoted exactly what I just said–‘neither project is perfect, but the KNIC project is not as flexible because it revolves around ice.  What if we don’t want to ice skate?’  Good question that needs to be answered,” said Cabrera.

“Absolutely,” McIntosh responded.  “And that question was answered when KNIC sat down with the community for more than 30 hours over four months and helped us develop the Community Benefits Agreement.”

After nearly four hours of testimony, Councilman and Sub-Commitee Chairman Mark Weprin adjourned the meeting.  Members will vote within the next few days over whether to endorse the project, which will be home to nine ice skating rinks, over 5,000-seat arena and indoor parking.

The City Council, which four years ago voted against the re-development of the armory over traffic issues and living wages, will vote on the project on Dec. 16.


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