Roughly 24 hours before a series of City Council votes could effectively end the 20-year saga of Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, negotiations between backers of the proposed ice center and a holdout City Councilmember have come to a halt.
Councilman Fernando Cabrera — whose district includes the castle-like structure — rallied members of the church where he is pastor in opposition to the plan on Sunday but said he was “hopeful” that ongoing negotiations over the terms of a Community Benefits Agreement would result in consensus by the time City Council committees take up the measure on Tuesday.
However, both the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Association (KARA), which represents 27 community organization signatories to the agreement, and the developer KNIC, have said they are done talking.
“We are confident the City Council will join Community Board 7, the Bronx Borough Board, Borough President Diaz and other elected officials from all levels of government, as well as grassroots community organizations and residents throughout the borough who have overwhelmingly endorsed this historic and transformative project,” a spokesperson for the developer said in a statement released Sunday. It added: “We have thoroughly addressed the concerns expressed by Councilmember Cabrera.”
KARA members, who had entertained some last minute changes over the weekend, expressed a similar sentiment.
“This Community will no longer be held hostage by Cabrera’s no vote or his attempts to ‘re-write’ the Community Benefits Agreement,” Alice McIntosh, a KARA leader who oversaw the negotiations, wrote in an e-mail before Cabrera’s rally.
After celebrating his church’s 25th anniversary during Sunday service, Cabrera announced his plan to rally outside the Armory. He said concerns about traffic and small businesses underlay his opposition to the plan to develop the Armory into an ice-sports complex.
“This Tuesday is the vote at the City Council and we’ve been fighting about important issues that perhaps the media don’t want to cover right now,” the first-term Councilman, who was re-elected in November, said. “The real issues: traffic. We got traffic issues that are gonna be huge here. We’re gonna have three million people that are gonna be coming to the Kingsbridge Armory. We have issues of parking. They’re going to eliminate all the parking. You know that parking, all those parallel parking [spots]? They’re gonna [take] ‘em all out.”
He also cited “the real issues of the small business people” before asking: “Can you stand with Pastor today? C’mon.”
From there, a group of about 20 people walked from Cabrera’s New Life Outreach International Church to the Armory, a few blocks away, where they met up with another group standing beside Bishop Fernando Rodriguez — who is a pastor in a Bronx church, head of the Latin African American Chaplain’s Association (LACA) and oversees 42 churches under the association he founded called Fellowship of Churches Light in the Darkness. About 50 people were present as Cabrera again laid out his objections to the current agreement for the Armory.
Lynette Arroyo, 48, a member of Cabrera’s church, said she has come out to some Community Board 7 meetings and is trying to “get informed on both sides.”
“I’m here to support Councilman Cabrera,” she said.
Lenny Cruz, 34, said he was there to learn about the issue and was also a member of New Life Outreach International.
Cabrera discussed what he said was a need for free parking, traffic mitigation and a more direct way to support local businesses.
“We need to cut out the middle man and to cut out all these layers of bureaucracy or operational costs and stop doing it like the government does it,” Cabrera said of the 27 community organizations that will oversee a fund for businesses on Kingsbridge Road.
Questions about extent of support
Though Cabrera said he was there in part to represent local merchants, this reporter could not find a business owner at the rally.
No other elected official was present, but Cabrera claimed to have broad support in that arena as well.
“We’re in negotiations right now,” Cabrera told those gathered. “We’re running out of time. The councilmembers I have spoken to, the vast majority of them, right now, all of them with the exception of one right now, all of them, have stood with me and I want say to the Bronx delegation, thank you so much for standing with me. I want say to Brooklyn, to Queens, to Staten Island and to Manhattan, thank you for standing with me and just like I have stood with them, they’re gonna stand with me. And so I’m looking forward, listen I’m looking forward to getting this project done, but process is as important as product.”
Councilmembers tend to defer to the local Council member when weighing in on development projects. But Councilman Oliver Koppell, from the neighboring district, has spoken out in the support of the plan and of his intention to vote yay regardless of Cabrera’s position. He had faith his colleagues would do the same.
“I’m confident that it will be voted on positively before the end of the council,” he said, referring to the end of the current term on December 31.
Still, Cabrera’s support from certain parts of the religious community appears unwavering. Bishop Rodriguez addressed the crowd outside the Armory. “We are just here to let you know that we support you 100 percent,” he said, adding “We’re not going to tolerate them just throwing something in our community and then leaving it to chance to see what’s gonna happen.”
Pushing, behind the scenes
Cabrera stood with elected officials, the arena developer and backers including Mark Messier and Sarah Hughes when they announced an agreement for the Armory in April. Four years after a Bloomberg administration attempt to develop the Armory into a mall failed amid a dispute over living wages, the ice-center plan secured support from many local organizations for its extensive community benefits agreement, or CBA.
Behind the scenes, however, sources involved with the negotiations say Cabrera attempted to alter the CBA between 27 community organizations and the developer, at one point asking for $100,000 for a group called Community Action Unlimited, as first reported by the Norwood News.
Cabrera’s chief of staff, Greg Faulkner, said he recalls Cabrera requesting funding for CAU but says that he later withdrew the request. Cabrera said the same in an interview with News 12 Bronx. And a spokesperson for KNIC confirmed that Cabrera requested the money.
The website communityactionunlimited.com was registered in January 2013 in the councilman’s name and the administrative organization is listed as New Life Outreach International, Cabrera’s church.
Cabrera has repeatedly tried to garner resources for CAU even though it had its nonprofit status revoked in 2010, has not filed taxes since at least 2007 and never filed with the state Attorney General’s office, as nearly all charities are required to do.
Even before he was elected, Cabrera rallied in 2007 to have the old Fordham library handed over to the organization.
Last-minute talks falter
After news broke last month that Cabrera had asked for money for CAU, he voted for the project at the Borough Board meeting on Nov. 21, saying he still had concerns about traffic but that he was confident they could be worked out.
It was another story at the City Council subcommittee hearing on Thursday, however. He complained not only about parking, but about other parts of the CBA as well, and laced into Alice McIntosh, who oversaw the CBA negotiations, interrogating her during the hearing over early doubts she expressed on the ice-complex plan.
Then, he asked fellow councilmembers to vote no, while still holding out hope that he could come to support the plan by vote time.
After the hearing, there were additional talks on changing some language in the CBA, sources say, but they failed when Cabrera made significant new demands. One would switch control over community space from a coalition of community groups to an advisory council on which Cabrera gets to appoint members, according to an e-mail obtained by City Limits.
Cabrera, who would not comment on whether he had tried to wrangle control of the community space, still said he could end up supporting the plan.
“I’m hopeful. I want this. But I want it to be done right,” he told the crowd Sunday.
But it’s unclear with whom he is still negotiating.
“If the City Council wishes to support him they will be saying no to wall to wall living wage jobs, 50,000 square feet of community space, $250,000 in local grants for small businesses along Kingsbridge, sustainable, green development, free foundation sports and after-school programming, targeted towards Title 1 public schools in the Bronx, one million yearly in-kind contribution which will allow local residents and community groups to use the ice for free, and specifically targeted local, minority and women owned business hiring and procurement,” McIntosh said in a statement released Sunday.