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CityLaw Breakfast: Adolfo Carrión, Jr.

“The Bronx is open for business,” according to Adolfo Carrión, Jr., Bronx Borough President.

Speaking at the first CityLaw Breakfast of the 2006-2007 academic year, on September 26, Mr. Carrión said that his borough was experiencing a level of redevelopment that was unprecedented.

“There is a new wave,” Mr. Carrión said, ushered in by the idea that “our principal responsibility is to create a platform for growth.”

Mr. Carrión said his belief in economic development had a long, historical precedent in New York. People have always come to New York City to do business, Mr. Carrión noted, and added that the City was established originally as a trading post.

Between 2001 and 2005, Mr. Carrión said the Bronx realized a number of highly significant milestones. Mr. Carrión stated that the unemployment rate in the Bronx dropped from 12 percent to six percent and the borough led 53 counties in job creation. He added that 25,000 housing units had been created in four years, 7,400 in the last year alone.

Mr. Carrión pointed out that this redevelopment represents an incredible turn-around” from the recent past when the Bronx lost a significant amount of its population. “Literally, we had blocks and blocks that were empty,” he commented.

Mr. Carrión credited former Mayor Ed Koch with beginning the process of rebuilding neighborhoods, but he added, building housing, alone, was not enough.

“We needed to build capacity economically,” he explained. “We needed to restore people’s faith that they could take a risk.”

During the past four years, Mr. Carrión said, annual investment in the Bronx increased by 240 percent, and $1.3 billion was invested in housing. Mr. Carrión described this economic growth as a “radical transformation.”

One key factor that has helped fuel the growth of the Bronx since 2001,

Mr. Carrión said, was his insistence that developers make use of local vendors, contractors, and construction workers.

“If you are going to do business in the Bronx, you have to do business with the Bronx,” he stated.

Mr. Carrión explained that the construction of the new Yankee Stadium provided a good example of this approach. By using local suppliers, he said, the project provided a “very personal and direct opportunity to engage” with the community. Mr. Carrión said his philosophy was that developers must buy local, employ local residents, listen and engage with the local community, and adhere to sustainable development principles. He mentioned that the Bronx has funded “green roofs,” which can make a building more economically and environmentally sound.

“The City should take the lead and push for green roofs all over town,” he added.

Mr. Carrión spoke about several large projects that are now underway. He noted that the redevelopment of the old Bronx Terminal Market is generating 3,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs, and will spin off $50 million in tax revenues. The site, which is being redeveloped as a mall and park, will open in the fall of 2009.

Mr. Carrión said the construction of the new Yankee Stadium followed “an interesting and often colorful conversation” with Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner. The new stadium, with an adjacent park, a new Metro North station and a future hotel and convention center, will generate 10,000 permanent jobs, he said. Mr. Carrión acknowledged that the project is “not without controversy,” but argued that it will generate real growth and turn the stadium into a year-round destination.

Other projects Mr. Carrión mentioned included the River Plaza Mall, the Hub, the Kingsbridge Armory, and the reconstruction of Grand Concourse Boulevard.

“All of this does not happen by accident,” he noted. “It happens because we are bullish on the Bronx.”

The next step, Mr. Carrión commented, is to encourage the development community to create home ownership opportunities. Because real estate prices are so high, there is a danger of becoming “hollow in the middle,” meaning that the middle class will be priced out and move to the suburbs.

“We need to ensure that the American city works,” Mr. Carrión concluded.