KINGSBRIDGE HEIGHTS — Three years after helping defeat a plan to redevelop the long-vacant Kingsbridge Armory over wage concerns, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declared his support Thursday for a new proposal that would transform the historic edifice into one of the world’s largest ice sports centers.
Key to his support is a promise by the developers that all of the center’s workers will earn $10 an hour with benefits, a so-called living wage, which the developer who proposed a mall for the site in 2009 refused to guarantee, leading the City Council to kill that plan.
In backing the nine-rink ice center, Diaz has rejected the other major proposal for the site — a mixed-use complex with a marketplace, food court, cineplex, gym, rock-climbing wall and business incubator. Young Woo and Associates, the developer of that plan, promised that some workers would earn a living wage, but not all.
Diaz and others also worried that a project with many food and retail options would swipe customers from local merchants.
The proposed $250 million ice center, on the other hand, would not compete with local merchants, and would offer a hockey program for at-risk youth, hire local workers and provide 50,000 square-feet of space for community groups, Diaz said.
“Given the developers commitment to ‘living wage’ jobs, local hiring and community programming, it is clear that the Kingsbridge National Ice Center project is the right fit for our borough,” Diaz said in a statement.
He made his announcement Thursday outside of the 575,000 square-foot armory along with other Bronx elected officials, former Wall Street executive Kevin Parker and other developers and former New York Rangers player Mark Messier and Olympic figure skater Sarah Hughes, who are partners in the project.
Young Woo and Associates released a statement Thursday saying they were “very surprised and obviously disappointed” by Diaz’s endorsement, which they called “premature.”
The developers added that their proposed mixed-use complex, which is being called Mercado Mirabo, would create at least 800 permanent jobs, compared to some 170 at the ice center, and that the number of jobs at the complex paying a living wage would match “and likely exceed” those at the ice center.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which requested new proposals for the site in January, must now choose one of the plans — a decision that will happen this year, according to an agency spokesman. Then the project will go through the city’s lengthy land-use review process, which ends with a city council vote.
While the backing of the borough president and other elected officials will likely weigh in the council’s decision, members usually defer to the will of the local representative — in this case, Councilman Fernando Cabrera.
Cabrera did not attend the event Thursday. In press reports, he has suggested that the mixed-use complex may have wider local appeal than year-round ice rinks.
Greg Faulkner, Cabrera’s chief of staff, said the councilman wants to hear from more residents before he makes a decision, but added that a living-wage guarantee would not be a “deciding factor.”
“The councilman feels that this is the most important thing that he is going to do possibly in his term,” Faulkner said. “He wants to do this very carefully.”