Neighborhood voices: a FreshDirect debate

By on December 20, 2012 10:06 am

Why I support FreshDirect

By Phillip Morrow, SoBro

Bronx residents are tired of hearing about the dismal unemployment statistics in the borough and want to know what is being done to create jobs here.

Encouraging New York City businesses to invest in the Bronx is a good place to start.

At the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO), we work daily to improve the quality of life in our community.  Our four-pronged approach focuses on youth and adult education, real estate development and renewing the local economy.

One way to accomplish that goal is to stimulate commercial growth. In addition to offering entrepreneurial training and resources to start-up Bronx businesses, we also help those who want to move their companies to the Bronx cut through government red tape and promote job opportunities to residents of the borough.

For those of us fighting to bring these new economic opportunities to the area, the online grocer FreshDirect’s plans to open an expansive operations center in our borough is welcome news.

Since the company’s announcement this year that it would relocate to and expand operations in Port Morris, FreshDirect has said repeatedly that it wants to be an active member of the community.

The company’s recent announcement that it would hire 200 new employees by the end of the year, with a focus on recruiting Bronx residents, is just one example of its ongoing efforts to follow through on that promise.

Over the coming decade, the company plans to create up to 1,000 new jobs – at least one-third of which will be designated for Bronx residents. These jobs will play a critical role in helping curb unemployment.

In May, the company expanded service to every zip code in the Bronx, part of its goal of providing better access to quality, nutritious foods in an area of the city often described as a “food desert.”  In September, FreshDirect launched a novel pilot program that would allow some food stamp recipients to purchase groceries over the Internet for the first time.

And FreshDirect’s goal of switching to a 100 percent green transportation fleet isn’t just good for the environment–it will also stimulate local economic growth for other businesses.  For example, the company has purchased 10 electric delivery trucks from Smith Electric Vehicles, which announced recently that it would also be making the South Bronx its new home.

In December, SoBRO hosted its annual gala to highlight the strides we have made as a community over the last year to build a better Bronx.  Our partnership with FreshDirect is just one of the advancements we celebrated.

We cannot expect businesses to come to the Bronx if we do not play our part. Our support of FreshDirect provides a valuable case study for working with businesses looking to expand in– and help economically stimulate–our treasured borough.

By working directly with businesses, we can foster fruitful partnerships – like the one we are forming with FreshDirect–that will revitalize the South Bronx’s economy and create badly needed jobs along the way.

 Phillip Morrow is president and CEO of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation.

Who’s afraid of an environmental impact statement?

By Mychal Johnson, South Bronx Unite

Let’s be clear. FreshDirect doesn’t care about the South Bronx.

Since its inception, the company never bothered to deliver here until it thought we’d be foolish enough to trade our health for its “fresh” service.

Its half-hearted promises about (part-time) jobs, a (partial) fleet of green trucks and a (partially) revised plan for occupying our waterfront are sugar pills it thinks will distract us from the pain it plans to inflict.

Unfortunately, too many of us have become too familiar with grandiose proclamations of bold opportunities for the South Bronx that quietly disintegrate after headlines fade, leaving only poverty, pollution and broken promises.

The South Bronx suffers an asthma rate eight times the national average. One in five of our children have asthma, and our asthma hospitalization rate stands at 21 times that of more affluent neighborhoods in our city. The cause is no mystery. A 2002 study in the South Bronx linked our asthma epidemic to the diesel truck-intensive industries and highways saturating and surrounding our neighborhood.

Yet FreshDirect wants to bring 938 more diesel truck trips through our residential streets every day and another 712 on weekends and pretend the benefit outweighs the harm.

Talk about jobs is equally disingenuous. FreshDirect does for jobs what they do for groceries: they move them around at a heavy cost to the public. The business model depends upon peeling customers away from others, forcing local grocers and bodegas out of business and eliminating jobs. How are we to know they’ll bring more jobs than they take?

Additionally, the $127 million subsidy FreshDirect seeks would support a salary of $93,000 per job they “promise” to bring, yet Bronxites can expect to land an $8/hr PT position because of FreshDirect’s unfair exemption from NYC living wage requirements as a result of their heavy lobbying.

The public land FreshDirect proposes to occupy is part of a lot that lines the entire South Bronx waterfront. The state Department of Transportation leased it to a developer 20 years ago to provide a public benefit. The developer, however, has collected $61 million in profit while delivering nothing more than health consequences to the community from subleases to a waste transfer station, a fossil fuel power plant and distribution hubs for both FedEx and the New York Post.

For these and other reasons, a broad coalition of residents, politicians, and businesses have joined together to oppose this deal.

Our Community Board passed a resolution disapproving of the process by which the FreshDirect deal was struck.

Four locally elected officials, including Councilwoman Mark-Viverito, Councilwoman Arroyo, State Senator Serrano and U.S. Congressman Serrano, have called for a moratorium on all new development, including FreshDirect, on this public waterfront land.

Councilwoman James and Councilman Halloran have also sided against the deal, calling it an impermissible bailout of one company, a company that exists by leveraging subsidies to run hundreds, if not thousands, of others out of business.

Both the Bodega Association and the New York Association of Grocers have also come out against these enormous, unfair subsidies.

And South Bronx Unite, a group of concerned residents, has sued with the reasonable demand that a full environmental impact study be conducted before any development occurs, as is legally required.

Reasons for opposing FreshDirect’s attempt to move to Mott Haven are manifold, urgent, and clear.

The reasons they try to feed us for supporting them are malicious and slippery with misdirection. They even pay people from other communities to try to divide us.

These are pills we simply won’t swallow.

• * Dedicated to Monxita/o and all the yet to be born children of the South Bronx. * *

Mychal Johnson is a member of South Bronx Unite, a coalition of local residents and organizations.

Have an opinion on an issue of concern to Mott Haven, Melrose or Port Mor- ris? Neighborhood voices welcomes your submissions. 

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  • Wanda

    Hello, I never liked the undemocratic Fresh Direct deal to give them so much of our tax money while neighborhood grocery stores, and their employees suffer.

    Wish the paper mentioned that Philip Morrow’s boss is the Chair of the Board of SOBRO, Anthony Riccio. Riccio is the head of Harlem River Rail Yards the entity with the 99 year lease for the waterfront, where Fresh Direct proposes to be. Seems Morrow is compromised….

  • Joyce

    In a very thoughtful, precise manner, Mychal; you have nailed it!!! It appears that the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp is working against us having a decent way of life!
    They have missed the “Overall” in their name.

  • Corrine

    I agree with Wanda – it is a shame that the Mott Haven Herald did not disclose that Anthony Riccio is both the Chairman of the SOBRO Board of Directors AND the Senior Vice President of Galesi Group/Harlem River Yard Ventures, Inc., which is the developer that has profitted in the sum of $61 million from using our waterfront as an industrial dumping ground!

    It is not hard to uncover. It is on SOBRO’s website.

    Looks like the proposed FreshDirect deal is starting to peel back the insidious layers of people who have been profitting off of decades of dumping in the Suth Bronx and the trail of devastating health cosequences!

    Go South Bronx Unite!

  • Georgina

    Funny the Sobro guy mentions their recent gala, as Fresh Direct sponsored it at $40,000. Sad another bronx group goes for the money instead of what is right. Sobro is a real estate development arm, look at Neil Pariser’s personal and business holdings, for example

  • http://www.lilykesselman.com Lily

    Of course SoBro wants Fresh Direct! Fresh Direct gives them lots of money to do so! Looks like the price of selling out your residents is $40,000, and that’s just a drop in the bucket of the $127 MILLION Fresh Direct could get in subsidies.

    These subsidies not only include cash, but serious tax breaks for Fresh Direct. They will not pay real estate tax on that property. How can we support our infastructure without these taxes? These taxes are necessary for our schools, police, and civic needs. SoBro glosses over the fact that these are not sustainable jobs offered by Fresh Direct. These are unskilled low-wage jobs. These jobs are not guaranteed. Fresh Direct hires folks at $8.25 per hour, part time. How can these jobs support families? Workers will have to be on food stamps? So taxpayers will pay FreshDirect for low wage jobs requiring staff to be on public assistance?

    And then there’s the trucks. 1000 vehicle trips daily and it looks like their main route is down Alexander Avenue. 20% of our children have asthma.

    SoBro has everything to gain by Fresh Direct, but SoBro is NOT our community and our community will be decimated by this asthma-machine I call Fresh Direct. There should have been a disclaimer that Fresh Direct pays SoBro.

  • Sobro Resident

    Hey Philip, since you believe this is such a great deal for the Bronx, and Fresh Direct is a good neighbor, please forward your address so we can have this new facility built next door to you.

    I am sure 1,000 trucks per week traveling next door to you won’t be noticed, so please send us your address so we can fulfill your dream of Fresh Direct’s wharehouse in the Bronx! Remember, it will bring lots of jobs and other benefits, so it’s a win for the Bronx and a win for you!

    So what’s your address? I will immediately send it to Fresh Direct as a better option, and a willing community who would welcome them into the neighborhood. Please send it ASAP.

    Thanks.