By DAVID CRUZ
With 13 merchants facing double the rent for their stores across the street from the Kingsbridge Armory, now slated for redevelopment, those affected are scrambling to find a new place to do business. And many are turning to community stakeholders for help.
A large group packed Community Board 7 on July 22 looking for answers. The Board overlaps with the massive Armory recently cleared to become an enormous ice center. Board members were joined by representatives for local legislators, and merchants’ lawyers. Many store owners, all without a lease for some time, discussed the fallout from the rent hikes as purportedly inspired by the Armory project.
The plan has served as a catalyst for major real estate activity in the area, with new property manager Levites Realty Management overseeing the corner properties of 2 W. Kingsbridge Rd. and 2640 Jerome Ave. The move foreshadows a possible trend in the working class neighborhood in the next years to come, which could see an exodus of existing retail tenants.
At the meeting, George Vangelatos, the 18-year owner of New Capitol Restaurant, voiced concern over the rent hike. His daughter Stephanie told those in attendance that her family is “scared. This is our livelihood.” She was told her the rent at the eatery will go from $7,500 to just over $14,000.
Options were presented to impacted merchants, with representatives from the Mosholu Preservation Corporation offering a list of a dozen vacant storefronts within the borders of the Jerome Gun-Hill Business Improvement District and Webster Avenue as possible relocation sites. The relocation could likely provide a financial shot in the arm for Webster Avenue, now primed for major change in the coming years, thanks to rezoning.
Notices Sent Out
As the Norwood News first reported, an agent with Levites sent letters to retail tenants in mid-July informing them that rents would double come Aug. 1. The businesses include a diner, a natural products store, barbershop, and Chinese food business, many of which have been in the community for over 20 years. The news certainly stunned many business owners in the working class community, unsure of their future at this point.
For Kingsbridge Road, major real estate activity is looming for the area, according to Steven Lorenzo, a realtor with NAI Friedland. Assessing the real estate trend for the neighborhood, Lorenzo expects Kingsbridge to “unquestionably” change given the impending Kingsbridge National Ice Center, costing $345 million to build.
“Because of the renewed interest in the Kingsbridge Armory, there has been ancillary [developers] like hotels coming and snooping around the area trying to develop a hotel concept in the area to support the Armory and tourist attraction interest,” said Lorenzo. “We’re gonna start seeing those areas along Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge being utilized for new retail and housing opportunities, creating a different community.”
The price change adds further proof of major interest along the Kingsbridge corridor, a community where the median income stands at just under $33,000, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Armory project, considered one of the biggest in the Bronx in recent years, has become part of the new narrative for the re-surging Bronx, with borough politicians utilizing the project as part of its talking points.
The spike in rent has roiled the neighborhood with merchants rallying with others to seek solutions. Gene Bass, the owner of Forever Young Health Food, sees this as an early sign of gentrification. “It’s frustrating. You don’t know if you’re coming or going,” said Bass, who feels as though it’s a type of legal eviction. “I’m seeing a lot of vacant stores on Kingsbridge.”
The time frame is unfair, according to Bass, who’s owned her shop for 23 years. “That’s just giving us three weeks to increase our rent, make a decision, get out, and stay. This is really horrible. And these are families trying to stay.”
New Management Moves In
The new management company of the property is First New Kingsbridge LLC, an offshoot firm belonging to Levites, a Yonkers-based real estate player handling transactions in the Bronx. The firm was extended the lease by Kambia Real Estate and Hios Real Estate, with a combined mortgage of just over $3 million, according to records from the city Department of Finance. Levites has the option of becoming a full blown owner in the next couple of years.
After First New Kingsbridge LLC leased the property, it began advertising the space while forwarding letters to established owners there. On LoopNet, a real estate website, Levites listed the leasing price as $100 per square foot should new retail merchants sign a one-year lease. The maximum floor space per new tenant would be 1000 square feet. Representatives for Levites did not return repeated calls for comment.
But the Kingsbridge Road Merchants Association, a group working on behalf of tenants, said it intends to stay on top of the changes. “It’s really sad and very unfair, and we are going to do whatever we have to do,” said Christian Ramos, KRMA’s vice president.
Additional reporting by Imani Hall.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that a representative from the Borough President’s Office attended the meeting.