Atlantic Yards a "modern blueprint"? In the Bronx, what an expert calls "New York City’s first real CBA”
That´s not what people are saying now, as an expert describes the city´s first "real CBA."
From a 1/3/14 article by Laura Flanders in Yes! magazine on the Kingsbridge Armory, headlined After 20-Year Fight, Bronx Community Wins Big on Development Project Committed to Living Wages and Local Economy:
A long-empty landmark building in the Northwest Bronx is set to become what is being billed as the largest indoor ice-skating center in the world, according to a plan approved by the New York City Council this December in a 48-1 vote. The 750,000-square-foot Kingsbridge National Ice Center will feature a suite of nine rinks, including a 5,000-seat rink for international competitions. It will attract the world’s greatest athletes, say its backers, who include former New York Rangers star Mark Messier and figure skating Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes.That´s a lot more than the eight groups, all but two new or fledgling, that signed the Atlantic Yards CA.
The Bronx Armory development will also be a highly visible test of a new tool that’s in vogue in development circles: Community Benefits Agreements, or CBAs. These are private cooperation agreements between developers and community organizations, drawn up with the purpose of securing benefits for the community from the development project; and, for the developer, ensuring community support—or at least acquiescence—during the city’s official approval process.
In 2009, a plan to turn the same armory into ashopping center failed largely because the NWBCCC [Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition] and local unions protested that it would promote low-paying jobs and displace local businesses.
The ice center promises to bring far fewer jobs than the proposed mall, but it won support nonetheless—in no small part because the developer spent months in negotiations with a group of community and labor organizations (including the NWBCCC). These groups agreed to put their picket signs away and support the plan. In return, they got thedeveloper’s pledge to set aside $1 million annually for 99 years to pay for free ice time for local kids, 50,000 square feet of “community space,” green construction, and a promise to pay the facility’s estimated 260 permanent workers at least $10 an hour.
The official agreement includes 27 pages bearing the signatures of church leaders, business owners, labor unions, and community organizers, including Pilgrim-Hunter, who signed on as board president of her local housing association.
A "real CBA"
An expert is quoted:
The Armory CBA is really pivotal for New York City, for the Bronx, and for CBAs,” said Julian Gross, an attorney who has worked with dozens of groups on Community Benefits Agreements—including the Staples agreement—and who consulted with the NWBCCC early on in the process.Note that the issue with the Atlantic Yards CBA was not that the city tried to control or manipulate it. Gross has lodged such criticisms before regarding other CBAs in New York.
The deal takes the form of a “cooperation agreement” between the directors of KNIC Partners and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a team of community and labor institutions that the NWBCCC helped to found 17 years ago with the specific purpose of being a negotiating partner for developers—whenever such a developer came along.
“It‘s New York City’s first real CBA,” says Gross of the eventual deal that was reached. The deal was “driven by a legitimate community coalition, with no successful attempt by the city to control or manipulate it. It’s a real agreement with real legal language.”
The need for an agenda
From the article:
The people of the Northwest Bronx had made themselves a credible force to be reckoned with. That’s lesson number one for groups seeking to mimic what happened in the Bronx deal, says Bettina Damiani, project director of Good Jobs New York. The community groups in the area had developed a very clear agenda for the armory years before the developers arrived.Though the Atlantic Yards CBA supporters had not developed an agenda, neither had their adversaries. To be fair, there was not a single vacant building, as with the armory in the Bronx, but rather a railyard the MTA had not put out for bid, and some blocks nearby where private investment had ramped up.
The history of organizing
From the article:
Lesson number two: Organize for forty years?That´s relatively evenhanded. The failure of the Atlantic Yards CBA to produce the promised Independent Compliance Monitor--and the failure of signatories to ask for that monitor--is testament in itself.
It’s here that the Bronx story gets hard to mimic. Not every community is blessed with a 40-year-old coalition, immune to the criticism that the signatories to the agreements are self-selecting and unrepresentative.
In Brooklyn, signatories to a CBA negotiated with the developers of the Atlantic Yards redevelopment hailed that agreement as a great achievement, too. Opponents saw those signatories as pawns, and the CBA as a tool the developers had used to manufacture the appearance of consent and co-opt local politicians.
In the Bronx, some questions
From the article:
Even though the NWBCCC is massively popular in the Bronx, some residents still wonder how KNIC got chosen over an alternative proposal.And, as the article explains, that raises the question of whether it´s realistic to attract 2 million visitors annually to the Bronx for an ice rink.
Legendary DJ Afrika Bambaataa and an alliance of Hip Hop stars backed a different developer, Youngwoo and Associates, whose plan for the armory included a “Mercado Mirabo”—a community “plaza”-style market—and “town square” with a mix of food, entertainment, cultural space, and $10/month gym access for Bronx residents.
The Youngwoo proposal also included a Hip Hop Museum. “An international museum of Hip Hop, located in the Bronx where the movement started, will attract worldwide recognition and bring visitors from around the globe” said Bambaataa at the time.
Pilgrim-Hunter says the Youngwoo company wouldn’t commit to all of the points of KARA’s proposed CBA. Sources close to Youngwoo say the CBA process encourages developers to promise more than they can actually deliver. Youngwoo still believes its plan more closely reflected the community’s expressed priorities than world-class ice skating.
At the end of the day, the benefits promised under the CBA hang on the success of the KNIC business model.
The limits of a contract
The article includes a great deal of skepticism:
Nonetheless, in calling the armory deal the city’s first “real” CBA, supporters sidestep the poor record of area CBAs until now.
“New York’s past CBAs weren’t enforceable. This one is,” says attorney Gross.
Sure enough, KNIC and KARA are signatories to a legal pact. Still, Tom Angotti, who teaches urban affairs at Hunter College, says if the Center fails to deliver, “KARA can sue but they’ve got to find a lawyer and take them to court. Good luck with that.”
Angotti served on a citywide task force on CBAs in 2010 that concluded that the process needed to conform to clear, uniform standards. Even then, he adds, “CBAs are a community’s next best alternative to getting what they actually wanted.”
Roberta Gratz, author of The Battle for Gotham, is even more skeptical: “Real estate power still owns the city,” she says. “When a community’s strategy to get what it really wants has failed, CBAs are a way to get the best out of a bad situation.” (The Coalition's original proposal for the armory, drawn up after lots of community meetings, included three 800-seat schools to address school overcrowding, a sports complex, a green market, a bookstore, a community center, and a park. Not skating.)