Developers Versus Neighborhoods: The Argument for Community Benefits Agreement

The Kingsbridge Armory will bring approximately two billion dollars in revenue to the Bronx. After 17 years of negotiations, developers and community leaders signed a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) that will ensure their mutual prosperity. The process highlights how opposing capitalist and community forces can merge for the benefit of both.

A CBA, is a legally binding contract between developers and a coalition of community leaders. Ideal negotiations generate profit while protecting local businesses and safeguarding community needs. Most negotiations in NYC failed — from the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards to Columbia University's expansion into Harlem, the process is often marred with complex zoning and housing laws, secrecy, and conflicting interests.

The Kingsbridge Armory broke this legacy when Community Board 7 approved the contract and officially signaled the go-ahead for the development of the nine rink complexes.

The benefits are numerous; of the expected $70 million in revenue, 1% will go directly back into the community, notes Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, one leader of the Kingsbridge Armoray Redevelopment Alliance coalition, who signed the agreement with the Kingsbridge National Ice Center. The complex will also host a 50,000 square foot rent-free community center for local youth. Free ice sports lessons will be given to students in Title I schools, further ensuring that students in low-income public schools have access to recreation. STEM-focused job training for local youth is also included.

Collectively, this CBA is heralded as the most successful and innovative of its kind. It should serve as a model for other densely populated areas across the city.

As gentrification in low-income neighborhoods continues, a CBA is a solid tool for prosperity within the native population. CBAs, when negotiated correctly, enable an expansive array of stakeholders to get what they need in a comprehensive fashion. When seemingly opposing factions engage one another in a coalition of cross-cultural dialogue, income inequality weakens, social mobility heightens, and endemic socioeconomic hardships are addressed.

CBAs can bring out the best of both capitalism and community organizing, and need to be used with renewed gusto in a diverse 21st century reality.