WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The developers of the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal repeatedly refused to turn over their budget or contracts to an Uptown State Assemblywoman, most recently telling her to file a freedom of information request, she revealed at a recent town hall meeting.
Carmen De La Rosa, who oversees Assembly District 72, which covers Inwood and parts of Washington Heights, requested financial information from the George Washington Bridge Redevelopment Venture LLC — a private development company overseeing the long-delayed redevelopment of the half-century-old terminal in conjunction with the Port Authority — for months after touring the site in January.
“I’ve asked — the senator is my witness and so is our staff — for the contracts,” De La Rosa told those assembled at a George Washington Bridge Terminal redevelopment project town hall that she helped organize on Thursday.
“Last week, when my staff followed-up about the contracts, I was told to do a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request… because you guys can’t give us the information unless I do the FOIL request,” said De La Rosa. “That is not an appropriate way for our community to get information. I’m an assemblywoman of this district and I have to do a FOIL request? Well, I will do a FOIL request.”
De La Rosa was cheered by those present at the town hall meeting, prompting some to shout “shame on you” to representatives for the developer who were also in attendance.
The town hall, which was also organized by Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, State Senator Marisol Alcantara and Community Board 12, was intended to provide the community with updates and more information regarding the project — which is slated to open at the end of April after being delayed since 2015.
The Port Authority and its developer had not met with the community since 2014, when the developer appeared before the community to discuss who would occupy the new commercial space. Locals have complained that GWB Terminal organizers have been leaving them in the dark, refusing to discuss the project or provide information about its status.
Most recently, small businesses have complained to DNAinfo New York that after years of back-and-forth with developers, they were told they will not be allowed to begin construction on their storefronts until the terminal is already open, due to a clause in their contract preventing union workers from operating alongside non-union. But small businesses deny that the clause is written in their contract, adding that developers brought it up at the last minute with no explanation why it was never mentioned before.
On Thursday, GWB Terminal developers said they were unable to answer any questions about the status of the stores, because the staff members responsible for overseeing leases and tenants were sick Thursday night and unable to attend the town hall.
“This is ridiculous,” Alcantara said. “You bring some folks in here that can answer some questions for us. We are not children. We are adults. We are taxpayers. We took off from work. We want answers.”
Alcantara also said she’s spoken to several of the small business owners in recent weeks, and is working with them to further support their construction on the site.
Representatives for the developer said Thursday that they planned to meet with the small businesses this week to discuss the opening dates for their stores. They said they anticipate construction on those stores will take just a few months “because they are smaller shops” and “their construction won’t take very long.”
But multiple small business owners said they were originally promised to open along with the other big shops — and that the developer hasn't even approved their construction hires yet, despite the opening date being less than a month away.
“I’m disappointed that we are not getting all the information that we need to get, and that not all the players that are supposed to be here are in the room,” said De La Rosa. “Communication is an issue. The only way to fix communication is to get the people that are in charge in the same room. Our community deserves that, because if we’re doing a project with a multimillion dollar investment, that money is big enough to have the proper people in the room.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Port Authority turned over the documents to De La Rosa on Saturday, a spokesman for the agency said in an email to DNAinfo on Monday night, after this story was published. The Port Authority had not responded to earlier requests about the meeting.