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NEW YORK CITY-In an 8-4 vote, the New York City Planning Commission on Monday approved a plan that would turn the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a 575,000-square-foot mall that would now reportedly include a department store, shops and a movie theatre. The proposal is now set to go before the City Council, which has 50 days to approve or reject it.

The Kingsbridge Armory Development, which has seen community opposition and controversy over wages and another debate over grocery stores, would be a $310-million outside investment in the poorest urban county in the United States by the Related Cos.

Project opponents are asking that Related and future tenants provide living wage jobs and benefits. The hourly “living wage” for one adult in the Bronx is $11.86 per hour. However, for two adults with two children, a living wage is $30.30 per hour, according to the Living Wage Calculator developed by MIT’s Amy Glasmeier.

Sources close to the developer-community disputes over Kingsbridge’s future point out to GlobeSt.com that with the exception of supermarkets, no retailer pays a living wage. As a research associate from the Fiscal Policy Institute noted in her June 2009 testimony before Bronx Community Board 7, the median wage of a New York City non-managerial retail worker is $10.78 per hour.

With that, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., who currently opposes the project, says he’s hopeful the developer will sit down and negotiate with his office prior to the City Council’s upcoming vote on the project.

Diaz tells GlobeSt.com that “the office is willing to help the developer identify tenants that would offer a living wage to its employees.”

A Related spokeswoman tells GlobeSt.com that “Related has always committed to union construction and paid the employees within its direct employee a living wage.” However, she says, “demands on the retail community to pay a living wage that are not required anywhere else in New York City or New York State render the project un-leasable, un-buildable and un-financable for Related or any other developer.”

She adds, “The requirement would therefore result in the loss of 1,000 new union construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs that would be created at the Kingsbridge Armory.”

Meanwhile, Diaz says “we do not think this will keep developers out of the Bronx. Developers want to build in New York City, and the Bronx offers a number of opportunities for future development.”

As for the grocery stores, sources say that it was opposition to a large food store by another supermarket chain with deep roots in the Bronx that led to the nixing of a large grocery store at the Kingsbridge Armory.

And that’s despite a recently announced campaign by City Hall and comments by New York City’s first ever food policy coordinator, Ben Thomases who told GlobeSt.com on Oct. 7, “We have wealthy neighborhoods in Manhattan where less than 10% of the adults are obese, and low income neighborhoods in the South Bronx, north and central Brooklyn where more than 30% of the adults are obese.” The implication being that having no local grocer leads to these lower income neighborhoods to buy less healthy food.

And, there’s no doubt the retailer would have been happy with business in the Bronx. In fact, the 50,000-square-foot Harlem Pathmark, which anchors an $85-million retail complex, has been one of the chain’s highest-grossing stores since opening in 1999, according to the New York City Economic Development Corp. A report from the Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds says the Harlem Pathmark generates sales of around $800 per square foot.

A spokesman for the Bloomberg administration tells GlobeSt.com, “The plan always included an option for a supermarket, but it wasn’t arequirement.” He says the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Task Force and Advisory Committee, comprised of elected officials and community leaders, “has long been vocal about its support for a supermarket,” but acknowledges that there’s opposition to it. “We’ll continue to work with the Council on this and other aspects of the project as it continues through the public land use review process.

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