FreshDirect funding request hits snag

FreshDirect’s planned move to Port Morris hit a hurdle on December 18, when the online grocer’s request for a $3.5 million loan from the New York Empowerment Zone was tabled.

The six-member panel announced it was postponing its decision on the Queens-based company’s request just before the morning hearing, leaving the status of the loan in limbo. Members must agree on projects unanimously before they can be approved.

Rep. Jose E. Serrano, a member of the panel, announced he opposed allocating more public funds to FreshDirect than it has already received, and will continue to give it the thumbs-down.

Serrano was one of four elected officials representing Mott Haven who urged the state’s Department of Transportation in May 2012 to declare a moratorium on all new developments in Port Morris’ Harlem River Yards where FreshDirect plans to build, pending an audit to reevaluate the environmental impact projects could have on the neighborhood.

“Yesterday, I was prepared to vote against a further subsidy for the FreshDirect project,” wrote Serrano in a press release, pointing out the company has received “more than $100 million in government subsidies, and when the project was announced, everyone was told that this was sufficient.”

“I, along with several other elected officials and many community residents, have had deep misgivings about this project because of its impact on the health of Bronx residents, and its lack of impact on good paying jobs for people living in the Bronx,” he continued, echoing a group of Mott Haven residents who have contended since the city announced the deal last year that the company’s trucks would worsen local air quality and traffic, and that the jobs it promises don’t pay enough.

FreshDirect, however, says it has not given up on its hopes of securing the loan. In an emailed press release, the company stated that “FreshDirect has not yet had a chance to meet with all of the board members but we look forward to briefing them on this project” and reiterated the company’s promise to create 1,000 jobs.

The New York Empowerment Zone controls funds for several development projects in the Bronx and Harlem.

Members of the Mott Haven-based grassroots group South Bronx Unite were encouraged by Serrano’s support.

“It is simply irresponsible to offer public grants, loans and tax breaks for a project that would have such negative health impacts in the South Bronx,” said Mott Haven resident Mychal Johnson who was among several members of the group who attended the hearing.

Johnson added that they are hopeful the decision would help push the city to reconsider the deal and rethink plans for the waterfront to include more public access and recreational opportunities for residents.