Fountain is final roadblock in completion of Roberto Clemente Plaza
Call it a nine-year itch.
Elected officials and community leaders gathered at the Hub Tuesday to demand that the city finally complete the long-stalled Roberto Clemente Plaza, whose design process began in 2009.
An unfinished fountain stands as the last major hurdle before the city’s transportation department can sign off on the pedestrian plaza, which comprises a wedge of open space just south of the Hub on E. 149th Street. Construction overseen by the city’s Department of Design and Construction stalled in 2015 when the project’s contractor, Trocom Construction Corp., filed for bankruptcy.
“We’re telling the Department of Design and Construction, ‘get your act together, complete this plaza, and give this land back to the people of the South Bronx,’” said Councilman Rafael Salamanca.
Salamanca was joined by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer before the fenced-off plaza, which appears dusty and rough-edged, with benches and paving bricks installed. Other community leaders included Daniel Barber, chair of the New York City Housing Authority’s Citywide Council of Presidents and a resident of Jackson Houses, and Father Francis Skelly, a leader of tenant advocacy group Metro-IAF and pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Melrose.
The long delay has denied the community a public space, hindered foot traffic to nearby businesses, and aggravated residents’ commutes. The Third Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), whose third floor headquarters across the street overlooks the space, has lost revenue from its inability to program activities for the plaza.
Michael Brady, director of the BID, said completion of the plaza always seemed to be just around the corner, so during the past year and half the nonprofit, which has an annual budget of $450,000, has spent $22,000 on deposits for programmed activities that could never end up happening, such as tai chi, Zumba classes, and movies.
Brady said that Trocom’s bankruptcy triggered an insurance clause that requires a surety company to finish the project.
“When that happens, nine times out of ten, the surety company tries to milk the contractors to get the maximum amount of money from the city,” he said. “So they don’t care how long it takes.”
Steven Bloomfield, 57, used to ride the Bx41 bus from the 149th Street / 3rd Avenue station north to his house in Melrose, but his bus stop on Roberto Clemente Plaza is now fenced off and not in use.
“If I want to take the bus now, I have to go two blocks to the north and cross 149th Street,” said Bloomfield, a market researcher.
Jeffrey Margolies, executive director of intergovernmental and community affairs with the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC), said that the agency understands the community’s frustration and placed the primary blame for the delay on the bankruptcy of the contractor.
“DDC understands and shares the community’s frustration with the delays of the restoration of Roberto Clemente Plaza, which was caused primarily by the contractor’s bankruptcy after the project was already underway,” he said. “The project is now very close to completion, and awaits a final component for the fountain.”
For Stringer, that explanation doesn’t fly.
“The bottom line here, is there’s supposed to be checks and balances in place so when you have a contractor that cannot or is not doing the work, DDC has to be proactive,” said Stringer. “They have been asleep at the switch for nine years, and that is unacceptable.”
Salamanca said that 60 percent of the 15 active DDC construction projects in his district are behind schedule. Together those projects are valued at $223 million.
“It’s total mismanagement by the Department of Design and Construction, as to what they have done here in the South Bronx,” he said.
Additional reporting contributed by Barbara Prempeh.
Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of the story, Comptroller Stringer was quoted mistakenly identifying the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) as DCAS, a different city agency. That error has been corrected.