SOUNDVIEW — The "New Bronx” is a safe, bustling borough that increasingly entices investors and may soon lure tourists beyond the bright lights of Manhattan, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in his State of the Borough address Tuesday.
“Crime is down, investment is high, our neighborhoods are cleaner and our economy is growing,” Diaz said at Monroe High School Campus in a speech that emphasized recent economic investment in the borough, which more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.
But certain hard-to-shake woes remain, Diaz acknowledged, as he called for a new gun-crime registry, funding for a long-sought Metro-North expansion and a revamped admissions process for the borough’s best schools.
In his fourth such address, Diaz, who last year decided to seek re-election rather than run for public advocate, mostly avoided some high-profile projects with uncertain futures, such as those involving FreshDirect, the Kingsbridge Armory and the Hunts Point Market.
Investment in The Bronx surged 116 percent last year from about $789 million in 2011 to about $1.7 billion in 2012, led by the development of a new state mental health center, the Bay Plaza indoor mall, FreshDirect’s planned facility and new housing complexes, according to a report released by the borough president’s office during the speech.
These and other new developments will create thousands of jobs and, along with a handful of planned hotels, could draw new visitors to the borough — if it can lay old perceptions to rest, Diaz said.
“At every turn, the ‘New Bronx’ has seen dramatic improvement,” he said. “Yet we are still fighting the stereotypes of a previous generation.”
Diaz noted that The Bronx saw its lowest murder rate last year since 1963 — though it still outpaced every borough but Brooklyn.
Yet, in recognition that gang violence and shootings persist, he called for tougher gun regulations, such as an assault-weapons ban, universal background checks and firearm microstamping.
He also proposed a new online gun-crime registry, similar to existing registries of former sex offenders, which would track where people who once committed gun crimes now live and work.
“Law-abiding citizens ought to know who among us is responsible for gun violence,” he said.
Diaz continued to lobby for a plan that would run Metro-North trains from Penn Station through the East Bronx, known as Penn Station Access, which would create new stations in Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-op City.
Speaking to an audience that included all of the main Democratic mayoral contenders and the newly independent candidate, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., Diaz mostly steered clear of stalled Bronx projects connected to City Hall.
He did not mention the lawsuit holding up FreshDirect’s city-subsidized move from Queens to Port Morris, the city’s delayed decision on the redevelopment of the historic Kingsbridge Armory, or the faltering lease negotiations between the city and the merchant operators of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market.
One citywide issue he did address was education, arguing that many Bronx students are effectively barred from the city’s specialized high schools due to limited test prep and gifted and talented programs and a flawed admissions process.
He also called for a new Bronx high school to prepare students for in-demand jobs in technology and engineering modeled on the so-called P-TECH high school in Brooklyn.
“We need a school like this in The Bronx and we cannot afford to wait,” Diaz said.
He also promised a bigger Bronx Week this year and a series of events next year to celebrate Bronx County’s 100th anniversary.
"Good things are happening here," Diaz said, "and there's more to come."