Monday, February 27, 2006

"Terminal Market Deal Criticized" in Norwood News of Feb. 23 - Mar. 8, 2006

Terminal Market Deal Criticized


Elected officials are championing a community benefits agreement signed for the new Bronx Terminal mall as groundbreaking, but some community groups say the precedent-setting nature of the pact is exactly what they‘re worried about.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Pasquale Canale, president of the 161st Street Merchants Association. “We don’t feel that the community got anything.”

The Related Companies won its bid to build the Gateway Center mall at the old Terminal Market earlier this month when the City Council agreed to rezone the area. The night before the vote, Bronx officials and Related negotiated a package of labor-related stipulations and community givebacks for the $395 million project. The 965,000-square-foot complex, located between 149th and 153rd streets along the Harlem River, will include chain stores like BJ’s Warehouse, but not Wal-Mart. It is slated to open by 2009.

Related agreed to invest $3 million in job training and referral programs for Bronx residents, reserve some space for local and minority-owned vendors, and compensate the Market’s previous merchants. They also mandated that BJ’s accept food stamps and other benefits from customers (they currently do not at other stores), and pay half the membership fees for 1,000 residents.

Officials across the Bronx hailed the deal. “This agreement should serve as the benchmark for doing business in our borough and throughout the city,” said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión in his state of the borough address earlier this month.

Assemblyman Jose Rivera said Ululy Martinez, chief of staff for the Bronx Democratic Party, deserves most of the credit. “[The agreement] is the first of its kind in the city,” said Martinez, a lawyer, during an interview at an event earlier this month. Martinez said he consulted similar community benefits agreements from California, and while the Gateway document isn’t as beneficial to the community as those, he said it comes close.

Matt Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a city advocacy group, couldn’t disagree more. “There is no pressure on the developer to do anything,” he said.

If Related shirks its responsibilities, they will be fined up to $60,000. Community opponents fear Related will pay the fine and do whatever they want. “The community sold itself out for $60,000,” said Greg Bell, co-chair of Bronx Voices for Equal Inclusion, an advocacy group affiliated with the Mid-Bronx Neighborhood Advisory Council.

Martinez said Related was reluctant to make the agreement binding, but that officials succeeded in adding “enforcement mechanisms.” He didn’t elaborate on those measures.

Critics also complained about other parts of the agreement. The amount of space reserved for local merchants boils down to less than two percent of the entire mall. Living wage and minority hiring stipulations only pertain to workers contracted through Related, not the buildings’ tenants. The stores are encouraged, but not mandated, to hire through Bronx referral programs.

“How many people really are going to get jobs from Bronx county?” asked Bell, who sits on Community Board 4.

Community groups are particularly irate about the negotiating process. Last November, 18 community development corporations, Bronx organizations and other local stakeholders were selected by the borough president’s office to begin brainstorming about an agreement. They were divided into committees addressing small business, employment and environmental impacts.

Groups were given about a month to draft a document, but participants say they weren’t provided with any outside guidance. “We’d go to meetings among ourselves and talk in circles,” said Canale, who owns a corner store.

In the end, the groups weren’t even at the negotiating table. Organizations were e-mailed a completed document the morning of the Council vote. It included three lines for community signatures—and those were the only ones obtained. The heads of Hostos Community College, the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce and Mount Hope Housing Company endorsed the agreement. At least seven groups refused, according to Lipsky.

“Our two main focuses are transparency and inclusion,” Bell said. “This had neither.”

Anne Fenton, a spokesperson for the borough president, admitted that the rushed nature of the endorsement process wasn’t ideal, but she said that the signatories did represent each of the committees. “We chose three people that were heavily involved,” she said.

Critics worry that a closed-door process has implications for the neighboring Yankee Stadium development. The new stadium and parking garage, which would put replace two park, is moving forward despite growing community opposition.

Canale feels burned by Bronx officials. “How can you forget the neighborhood that put you up there?” asked Canale, who collected over 250 signatures against the stadium in less than two days. “The Yankees weren’t the people who elected you.”


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