Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hunts Point Market Sayonara?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Hunts Point Produce market is negotiating to leave the city: "The Hunts Point wholesale produce market in the South Bronx has identified multiple sites in New Jersey for a potential relocation of what is said to be the largest such facility in the world."

If this happens, it would be an absolute disgrace-and an indictment of the Bloomberg administration's failed economic development policies. And the fact that EDC has allowed the market to deteriorate is hard to believe: "Merchants and customers alike say the facility is antiquated and too small. Produce is often stored in trailers because of space constraints. "You have product that isn't being properly cared for in the refrigeration or the cold chain to keep things in great shape, and that means product will start to go downhill quickly," said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, a trade group."

So, let's get this straight. The most important economic engine in the Bronx, and the linchpin in the distribution of fresh fruits and veggies to the entire city, has been allowed to become obsolete? All the while EDC has been building retail malls all over the place? Let's not forget that the city has allowed all of the bakeries to leave the Bronx and other areas of the city under Bloomberg's less than watchful eye.

As the NY Daily News opined: "Two hundred well-paying blue-collar jobs will soon be lost to New York with the closure of the Queens factory that has turned out Wonder Bread since the 1920s. And the city's working-class hemorrhage goes on...Just as happened last summer to 220 workers who held similar positions at Old London Bakery, where Melba toast and other snack foods had been made for decades in the Bronx.Just as happened to 138 workers at the Stella D'Oro bakery, another long-time Bronx employer, after a national snack-food maker bought the company and centralized production in Ohio."

Of course, we can't forget the billions that EDC has earmarked to remove us from our property and develop the Iron Triangle. A case of dropping the ball, we think. And the cost of keeping the Market in the Bronx is a fraction of the Willets Point boondoggle:"The main sticking point in negotiations with the city is the financing of a new facility. The cooperative estimates a new market would cost $320 million in New York, but substantially less in New Jersey. Furthermore, the cooperative wants equity in the facility if it is contributing to its cost."

That's a price tag not much greater than what it will cost to build the useless Van Wyck ramps. Talk about priorities! EDC is now saying that they will do all they can to keep the market in the Bronx: "The city's Economic Development Corp. said in an emailed statement, "We continue to work with local, state and federal partners to develop a plan that will keep the market in the Bronx."

However, the fact that the situation has been allowed to reach this point speaks directly to the misplaced policies of the Bloomberg administration. Billions for pie in the sky projects, or developments that challenge our roads and mass transit infrastructure, but no money to insure that the Hunts Point Market stays where it should-in the Bronx where customers have easy access to the supply of fresh produce.

As one customer of the Market told the WSJ: "Mike Koutsounadis is the owner of a Queens-based distributorship that makes deliveries to about 30 restaurants and stores. Going to New Jersey, he said, "would be much tougher because of the travel distance, the tolls, the extra expense for the trucks…plus the time." Still, "If the prices are that much lower then I would go," he said."

This should have been a no brainer for EDC. But apparently,such a challenge has been above the agency's intellectual capacity. 3000 union jobs hang in the balance. We'll see if EDC can manage to hold on to this economic engine, and not get lost in the pursuit of a Willets Point Holy Grail.