By Aliza Chasan
Special to DNAinfo
LOWER MANHATTAN — Local leaders in Washington Heights blasted the developer behind the George Washington Bridge Bus Station renovation, charging it failed to hire local workers for the project, is not offering enough community space in the retail complex and is keeping locals in the dark about its plans.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area in which the station sits at West 178th Street and Broadway, ripped the George Washington Bridge Bus Station Development Venture at a meeting of the Council's transportation committee, saying it hasn't followed through on promises to work with the neighborhood.
“We’ve been very patient as a community, but enough is enough,” said Rodriguez, who chairs the transportation committee.
Among his complaints was that the developer promised to hold a series of job fairs for neighborhood residents but only hosted one. Rodriguez also said he and other elected officials were told space in the complex set aside for the community would stay that way permanently, but instead is only being offered for three years.
“Shame on you," he told representatives from the Port Authority on hand at the meeting. "We will not take this."
Community Board 12 chairman George Fernandez was equally incensed, saying the developer has largely left the board out of the planning process.
"I feel highly disrespected about this project," he said at the meeting. "We have been humble in this process; we have been calling them to come to the table."
The $183 million redevelopment of the bus terminal, which began in late 2013 and is expected to finish late this year, will include a host of chain tenants like The Gap, Buffalo Wild Wings, Blink Fitness and Marshalls.
Once completed, it will feature 90,000 square feet of new retail space, with Marshalls occupying most of the second floor.
Locals who had requested 10,000 square feet of community space at the complex were shocked when the Port Authority initially came with an offer of just 300 square feet. That number was eventually increased to 1,600 square feet, but Rodriguez said he expected it to be permanent.
The Port Authority has committed to covering the rent for the community space for three years and is willing to consider paying for longer if it feels the space is used well.
Brooklyn Councilman Antonio Reynoso said the Port Authority, which contracted the developer to do the work and is splitting the project's costs, bore some responsibility for these issues.
“The developer has no perspective, no community perspective, and I don’t think he sought that,” Reynoso said. “It doesn’t seem like the Port Authority is the biggest problem, but it seems like you guys are almost complicit in that."
Chris Valens, assistant director of media relations for the Port Authority, noted after the meeting that the developer was responsible for all construction hiring.
He said that more than 20 percent of the businesses involved in construction were led by minorities or women, but Rodriguez claimed not a single one of those businesses is based in the neighborhood.
Rodriguez also asked for a promise from the developer to provide a “living wage” — at least more than the minimum wage — to any local residents hired to work in the new stores.
No representatives for the George Washington Bridge Bus Station Development Venture attended the meeting, and the developer did not respond to requests for comment.
Bob Durando, the general manager of the station, said he was aware the Port Authority didn't initially communicate well with the community but thought it had improved.
Community Board 12 chairman George Fernandez asked that the Port Authority ensure the developer communicates with the locals, adding that the developer has had very few dealings with the board.
“They’re smacking us in the face,” he said of the developer. “They’re coming in. They’re taking our home.”
While Durando said the forthcoming complex marks an exciting transformation for the 52-year-old terminal, Fernandez questioned that logic.
“It’s embarrassing to talk about it and say it’s an exciting project. For who?" he asked. "For the rich person who’s getting all the money? For the top corporate executives who get all the money?”