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Bronx Beep to back ice rinks at Kingsbridge Armory

Bronx Beep to back ice rinks at Kingsbridge Armory

Crain’s New York 8/22/2012

By Daniel Massey

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will come out Thursday in support of the proposal to create a massive, $275 million ice-sports center at the historic Kingsbridge Armory, a spokesman said.

Mr. Diaz, who helped torpedo a previous proposal for a mall at the 650,000-square-foot armory over concerns the jobs would pay too little, made the decision following a pledge by the developers that all of the nearly 200 ice center jobs will pay a living wage.

Stuart Appelbaum, the labor leader who along with Mr. Diaz orchestrated the 2009 defeat of the mall project, which promised about 1,200 permanent jobs, will also announce his support Thursday for the ice center.

“This proves that you can have responsible development in the Bronx that provides living wage jobs for New Yorkers and builds stronger communities,” said Mr. Appelbaum, who is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “I’m looking for my skates right now.”

Mr. Diaz and Mr. Appelbaum are expected to be joined by City Councilman Oliver Koppell, State Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Jose Rivera in backing the ice center, which will include nine indoor skating rinks, a seasonal outdoor rink and a free hockey and figure skating program for children. New York Rangers great Mark Messier and Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, who are partners in the project being developed by banker Kevin Parker and other businesspeople, are expected to stand with the elected officials Thursday as they announce their support at a news conference outside the armory.

After the defeat of the mall project, Mr. Diaz fell out of favor with City Hall, but city officials eventually buried the hatchet and Mr. Diaz worked with them to put together the request for new proposals for the facility. His decision to back the ice center—an unusual step for an elected official while proposals are being officially considered—adds momentum to a project that is believed to have the inside edge among city officials to the other contender, a plan by New York City-based developer Young Woo for a retail market, movie theater and recreation space.

The support from Mr. Diaz and the other elected officials could help lessen the impact of any opposition from Community Board 7, which is reportedly concerned about traffic, and the local city councilman, Fernando Cabrera, who may prefer the variety and presumably broader public appeal of Mr. Woo’s plan.

Mr. Cabrera at first spoke highly of the ice center, but then appeared to be leaning towards Mr. Woo’s project, known as Mercado Mirabo. He is not expected to appear at the press conference on Thursday, though that doesn’t mean his position has been determined. His chief of staff, Greg Faulkner, did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Cabrera’s stance could ultimately prove pivotal, as council members tend to follow the lead of their local colleague. The project will need to go through the city’s laborious land-use review process, which includes council approval. Earlier this summer, Mr. Faulkner told Crain’s the councilman was “looking very favorably at Young Woo, although there’s no handshake and no deal.” He said that the variety proposed by Mr. Woo would meet the community’s interests and needs better than an ice facility would.

Mr. Woo said in a statement Wednesday that he was “very surprised and obviously disappointed” at the borough president’s decision.

“From our conversations with the community, we do not believe his support for the ice hockey project properly reflects the needs and wishes of the people of the Bronx and their community leaders,” Mr. Woo said. “Rather, we are confident that Mercado Mirabo’s diverse economic development, entertainment, cultural and athletic uses will offer the most significant benefits to the surrounding community and all of the residents of the Bronx.”

While some of the jobs that would be created by Mr. Woo’s proposal would meet living-wage standards, his project also includes retail space where employers would likely pay less than the $10 an hour, plus benefits, that Mr. Diaz and other proponents of living wage have advocated.

In addition to the promise of living wage jobs, Mr. Diaz is said to have looked favorably on the economic impact of the proposed ice center, which would attract an estimated 2 million visits a year, including 1.5 million from people who do not live in the Bronx. The visits would inject $13.5 million new dollars directly into the borough each year, according to an analysis by the ice center developers.