City Agrees to Give CB 9 a Say Over Citarella Site, Not Full Control

By Jeff Mays on March 11, 2011 6:38am 

Citarella is still operating at the West 125th Street site in Harlem, despite a court battle to evict the gourmet grocer.
Citarella is still operating at the West 125th Street site in Harlem, despite a court battle to evict the gourmet grocer.
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Photo courtesy of Citarella

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — The president of the city's Economic Development Corporation has promised to work closely with Community Board 9's executive committee in choosing a developer for the Citarella Supermarket site on 125th Street, but stopped short of granting them decision-making powers because he said it would set a bad precedent.

"Once we do it with one community board it's impossible not to do it with all community boards, and not all community boards are run as professionally as this one," said Seth Pinsky, the head of the city's EDC.

"It would make it very difficult for us to get projects done around the city," he added. "We, as representatives of the mayor, have to be the one to make the decision."

Pinsky's visit came after Community Board 9 chair Larry English lashed out at the EDC for not giving the community enough say in what they are describing as a critical project for Harlem's main thoroughfare.

"Citarella is such an important site in Harlem and they didn't get it right last time," English said earlier this week.

The former Taystee Bakery site is a six-building complex located at 461 West 125th Street and 426-458 West 126th Street. There is approximately 134,000 square feet of space. Since 2005, the site has been occupied by gourmet grocer Citarella.

However, the city won a case to evict the supermarket in 2009, saying they failed to live up to the development agreement and build warehouse space that would generate jobs. Citarella is appealing the decision but the city moved ahead with the initial redevelopment and issued a request for interest. Sixteen developers responded.

To resolve its differences with EDC, Community Board 9  agreed to form a task force to work closely with the agency on choosing a developer for the site. Pinsky said it boiled down to potential conflicts of interests if appointed community board members had too much influence in the process. In addition, if every community board was granted a similar role, it could cause gridlock in the city's development pipeline.

Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky addressed Community Board 11's executive committee.
Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky addressed Community Board 11's executive committee.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays
"As long as we are talking regularly, as long as we are being open with you and you're being open with us, there has to be a way to end up with a project that we are all happy with," said Pinsky. "And this is New York so you'll never end up with a project that everyone is happy with."

But Pinsky made it clear that EDC would have the final say and that it could mean a project the board does not agree with could be chosen.

"We have a fiduciary duty to the people of New York to do what we think is in the best interests of the city," Pinsky said

English said he was willing to give the arrangement a chance.

"We want to help shape this project because we are going to have to walk past it every day," English told Pinsky during the meeting.

"I'm sensitive to their issues and now they are sensitive to our issues," English added.

But some board members said they remained slightly skeptical.

"This is a start to create a relationship," said board member Charles Cooper. "We need to have our voices heard. We know what the community wants and what the community needs."

"I'll reserve judgement until the process gets going," said board member Brad Taylor.

Pinsky also unveiled plans to increase the inclusion of minority and women companies in response to concerns from Community Board 9.

Pinsky said that EDC would begin a program where EDC would partner with banks that can fund projects of some minority and women-owned firms. The banks would loan the firms money and EDC would send payments directly to the bank. He also said that the agency would share expert advice with minority and women firms.

EDC will also do more to publicize the bidding process, revealing the bidders' identities earlier and doubling the number of outreach events to two per month, Pinsky said.

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