New mall to open soon next to Bruckner Boulevard

Read my article published on The Hunts Point Express.

Eateries and chain stores will dominate downscaled project

“This fall, a long-awaited retail mall is finally scheduled to open at 925 Hunts Point Avenue. The finished product will look much different than an ambitious proposal presented to Community Board 2 five years ago, which included mixed-income housing and additional parking for the traffic-clogged corner next to the Bruckner Expressway.

The rounded, gray building at the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and East 163rd Street will be home to a Red Lobster with the capacity to serve up to 312 customers, a Deals Tree 99 cent store, a McDonald’s, a Boston Market and a Bank of America, all of which have signed leases, according to Mark Brennan, development director at Blumenfeld Development Group Ltd.

On its website, the developer touts the new space’s “high ceilings, abundant signage and secure loading,” in a two-story retail project that can accommodate 10 businesses.

The original plan for The Crossings, as the project is being called, was presented to Board 2 in 2011 by a different developer, the Prusik Group, and included 136 apartments of mixed-income housing along with a parking facility. It was emphatically approved by the board.

However, the housing component was removed from the plan due to a downturn in the market, according to the Prusik Group’s principal and owner, Rohan Mehra. The parking proposal was then removed from the plan as well.

“We worked very hard with the Borough President’s office and (The Department of Housing Preservation and Development) to try and add housing to the development and spent a lot of money on plans and consultants to that end,” said Mehra, in an email to The Express. He went on to explain that the housing part of the plan would have required the developer to purchase the vacant lot at 985 Bruckner Blvd., next to 925 Hunts Point Avenue; yet his firm was unwilling to pay what the owner of that lot was asking.

“We knew the community really wanted more housing but the property owner was intractable,” Mehra said, and added that when the housing component was scuttled, additional parking was no longer required in the scaled-down project.

Some in the neighborhood say new shops would be welcome on the site of what had previously been a BP gas station, as long as they provide products and services residents need.

“If they bring stores that we currently don’t have any of here, that would be pretty great,” said the chair of Community Board 2’s Economic Development committee, Maria Torres. However, Torres cautioned that the new developer’s choice to bring in another dollar store is of questionable value to the neighborhood.

“We don’t need another 99 cent store,” she said. “It would be great to see other options for people to be able to shop.”

Yaya Sanogo, who owns Westman Music across from the site, said he is looking forward to seeing the Red Lobster and Dunkin’ Donuts open. Those franchises are listed on a posting of future tenants outside the Crossings’ construction site.

“We can benefit because people are going to come for them, and we are going to profit, too,” said Sanogo.

William Feldman, president of the Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District, agreed that a sit down restaurant could give local businesses a boost, since it would be open late and customers who come to dine there may opt to shop locally.

“I wish they are very successful because that side of 163rd street has always been a very slow side for retailing. So if they can get that side to be more active, it would be great for the area,” said Feldman.

Rosa Sánchez, who has sold ices and other snacks from a food cart at the corner of East 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard for over a year, said she is looking forward to the diverse shopping and new customers the new businesses may bring.

“There’s only clothing shops around here. Any kind of restaurant would be nice,” Sánchez said.

But some prominent Hunts Point boosters are troubled at the dwindling of the project from a robust, multi-layered proposal to something significantly less than that, without community input. The chair of Board 2, Dr. Ian Amritt, said that both the developers and the Red Lobster representatives have been evasive about meeting with the board to discuss their progress.

“They came to us with the plan for housing, those plans changed and they’ve not come back,” said Amritt. He referred to the mid-project switch in development companies as an “entirely confusing situation.”

Feldman said new parking was a feature he had looked forward to before that part of the plan disappeared.

“I was very disappointed when I heard there was no parking. That’s something that is really needed in the area,” he said.”

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Joe Bataan performed as part of SummerStage 2016

Click here to read my story published on the Mott Haven Herald.

“Classic salsero gets St. Mary’s Park dancing.

Some 200 people waited for hours under a light rain, for a good spot to see legendary salsero Joe Bataan perform at St. Mary’s Park on July 13th. The free concert was one of 115 being put on through the City Parks Foundation SummerStage 2016 Arts Festival.

Summerstage 2016 brought music to the Bronx throughout early July, first at Crotona Park before moving on to St. Mary’s Park on July 12, where events were staged nightly through July 17.

Sometimes I talk to the #NYPD about a recent murder, sometimes I cover #JoeBataan in South #Bronx #Journalism

A video posted by Vianey Al (@vianeyalderete) on Jul 15, 2016 at 1:00pm PDT

 

“I love it because it turns back my clock,” said Angela Lopez, after attending the concert with her friend Betty Soto. It wasn’t the first time the two have gone to see salsa’s most famous Filipino-American playing live in New York.

A native of Spanish Harlem, Bataan began performing in the ’60s with his band, Joe Bataan and the Latin Swingers. In the ’70s, his famous salsoul sound and record label of the same name were established. In 1979, his rap record “Rap-O Clap-O” hit the charts in the US and Europe…”

Conjunto #SETENTA from Paris opening the stage for #JoeBataan #SummerStage16 #NYC #latinsoul

A video posted by Hunts Point Express (@huntspointnews) on Jul 13, 2016 at 5:02pm PDT

Cop who died in 9/11 cleanup honored

Read my story published at The Hunts Point Express.

“A 41st Precinct police officer who died of brain cancer after helping clean up the toxic destruction in Lower Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks, was memorialized by his family, fellow cops and former commanding officer at a June 17 ceremony at the station house on Longwood Avenue.

Memorial Lt. Pupo.3.jpg

A part of Longwood Avenue between Bruckner Blvd and Southern Blvd. was renamed for the late Lieutenant M. Christopher Pupo, who died on June 23, 2012 at the age of 39, after battling cancer contracted while cleaning up the rubble from the Twin Towers. Puno was survived by his wife Kristen, daughters Mackenzie, Kacey, and Devy, and his father Al, who attended the memorial, along with members of the NYPD.

“When his body began to fail him, he did not use that as an excuse,” recalled Deputy Inspector Philip Rivera, who was Pupa’s boss at the 41st Precinct in 2012.

“Despite his pain and suffering, he came to work to ensure that his responsibilities were taken care of, and to assure that his cops knew he had their back,” said Rivera.

Pupa’s NYPD career began in 1998 in the 52nd Precinct’s anti-crime unit in Norwood. In 2004 he was transferred to the 26th Precinct in Harlem, then promoted to sergeant before being assigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau. He was also an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard reserves for nearly a decade, then honored as Reserve Petty Officer of the Year in 2009 and promoted to Chief Petty Officer.

“Chris was a man who obviously dedicated his life to the service of others, and it is fitting and appropriate that a plaque is placed on the walls of this station house in his honor, alongside the other heroes that have served before him,” said NYPD’s Bronx Borough assistant chief Larry Nikunen.”