There was a less-than-subtle undertone to a Monday morning mayoral press conference in Chelsea.
Speaking in the wake of the City Council’s rejection of a proposed mall project in the Bronx, Mayor Bloomberg, side by side with Council Speaker Christine Quinn, emphasized “creating jobs;” of “progress” on development projects; of cooperation with the City Council.
On hand to trumpet the Council’s expected approval (there was a vote greenlighting the project Monday afternoon) of a rezoning of the West Side rail yards, a $15 billion development, the mayor clearly wanted to shift the focus away from the stinging defeat at the mall project, the Kingsbridge Armory.
In addition to the rail yards, the city’s Broadway Triangle project was approved Monday by the Council, seeming to conclude a saga over the large below-market rate housing site in Brooklyn that has been pushed relentlessly by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (attracting a high level of controversy in the process).
Speaking to reporters, the mayor ticked off a list of projects he put under the banner of progress: Coney Island, Willets Point; Hunter’s Point South in Queens; Homeport in Staten Island.
“For decades, leaders have tried to tap the potential of these projects, but they’re actually getting done now,” he said. “These projects are leaping off the drawing boards and into reality. They’re creating jobs for New Yorkers and affordable housing for families.”
Such a characterization as “leaping” is a stretch to be sure, as the largest projects, while approved by the Council, now depend on the market, and few, if any, are moving anywhere fast. The city has made some movement in these projects, though no one can realistically expect Coney Island or Willets Point to be developed any time soon. (Then again, the Atlantic Yards project is poised to move forward at the end of the month.)
On the rail yards, for instance, both city officials and executives from the developer, the Related Companies, gave a number of awkward responses to repeated questions about when everything would be finished at the site. In reality, whether or not the site ever gets developed will depend on whether the developer can convince retailers and businesses to take a leap of faith and build big in a nascent business district. Related has an obligation to sign a contract with the M.T.A., which owns the yards, by the end of January, or the firm risks forfeiting the deal.
With that said, all the projects received approval from the Council at the mayor’s urging, unlike the Kingsbridge Armory, which was defeated because the city and the developer, the Related Companies again, refused to mandate that all retailers inside pay a living wage ($10 an hour, or $11.50 without benefits) to all employees.
On this subject, the mayor made clear his feelings.
“It’s a great tragedy,” he said, listing benefits the $320 million project would have bestowed on the community, regardless of the minimum wages its retailers paid. “Now they have nothing, and we have a building that’s been vacant for 30 years, it’s costing the taxpayers something like half a million a year to maintain, and we’re going to have to continue to pay that without anything to the community.”
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who went along with the Bronx delegation to oppose the development without the living wage requirement on retailers (which has no precedent in New York City, though there are a few municipalities nationwide that have one), sought to play down allegations of a new rift between the Council and the mayor.
“We’re not agreeing on Kingsbridge, the only economic development project in the four years of the mayor and I working together where we haven’t been able to come to an agreement,” she said. “We will never let one disagreement force us into a place where we can’t find other points of commonality.”