Thompson Warms to IDA Role, Assails Related Companies’ Bronx Plans

A seat on the board of the Industrial Development Agency is not the most illustrious post in city government. The agency devotes itself to arranging and approving tax incentive packages and tax-free financing for various industrial and commercial city firms, and the board itself is controlled by the Bloomberg administration, which appoints the chairman.

And for a long while, city comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson hardly made much of a public show of his seat on the IDA, and rarely, if ever, brought public criticism to the hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives that came up on the board’s agenda. All told, in the 77 IDA meetings Mr. Thompson’s representative has attended since 2002, he voted “no” just three times, according to the IDA.

But now, with the mayoral election just eight months away, Mr. Thompson is striking a noticeably different tone, as he seems to be taking a more activist approach to some of the various roles the comptroller’s job affords.

Earlier this year, he came out strongly against the deal to issue new Yankee Stadium bonds when it came before the IDA (he voted for an earlier financing package for the stadium, though he argued a substantial jump in costs made the deal a bad one for the city). And in early February, he used his role as a reviewer of city contracts to block, at least temporarily, a design contract for an expansion of the Brooklyn House of Detention, a development he has repeatedly criticized.

The latest round came Thursday morning, when he joined the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and a host of other labor, religious and community groups to take a swipe at the Related Companies’ plans for a $323 million retail development in the Bronx, threatening a “no” vote if Related did not make certain changes. The project, the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment, must go before the IDA, as Related is seeking $13.8 million in tax breaks. (According to its application, Related is paying $5 million for the 588,000-square-foot, city-owned building).

With regard to Related, Mr. Thompson is vowing to vote against the deal unless there is a community benefits agreement in which Related would agree to concessions such as guaranteed wages and community hiring. The firm has been asked many things for the development, including requests that it build a school, and that it not build a competitor to a neighboring grocery store.

“We are urging Related to sit down with the community to resolve this; to work out an agreement that’s fair to everybody,” said Mr. Thompson, who initially signed on with the coalition of groups urging a CBA last year. “Until then, I vote no.”

The request for incentives came as part of Related’s negotiation with the Bloomberg administration, said Seth Pinsky, chairman of the IDA. Related was initially designated the developer almost a year ago, though it has not yet closed on the property with the city.

“They came to us, and they said that they felt they needed assistance with these additional incentives,” Mr. Pinsky said. “So we looked at the benefits of giving these incentives … and we determined that it was a positive return to the city.”

A Related spokeswoman wrote that the company is working closely with stakeholders and “we look forward to continuing our important discussions with them regarding the substantial benefits that this development will provide for the entire community.”

According to Related’s application, there could be more incentive requests to come. Related said it may apply for tax incentives from the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, brownfield cleanup credits, and a tax credit from the federal government for historic preservation.

Video of Thursday’s press conference on the Related project from Mr. Thompson’s office.