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Kingbridge ice plan another step closer to reality

Bronx Times

Councilman Fernando Cabrera voted favorably for a plan to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into an ice center amid claims he tried to shake down developer funds to his religious nonprofit.

Cabrera, considered the Council’s swing vote in the plan, “voted in the affirmative” at a Bronx Borough Board meeting--an advisory panel made up of Bronx City Council delegation and Community Board Chairs. Members unanimously voted in favor of greenlighting the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, said to be the world’s largest ice center, at the Nov. 21 gathering.

Cabrera’s favorable position now puts pressure on whether he would indeed vote for the project at the City Council next month.

He quickly ducked reporters following the vote, heading to the elevator at the 161st Street building, just a block from Bronx Criminal Court.

Cabrera’s staff has said they are simply in talks with developers over traffic issues that have blossomed since Community Board 7 voted in favor of the project in September.

The talks come after a damaging published report by Kate Pastor in the Norwood News alleging through unnamed sources that Cabrera attempted to squeeze $100,000 a year for the next 99 years from developers for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center to fund a religious nonprofit that’s virtually defunct, according to records.

The end result was Cabrera backpedaling on his request.

His endorsement of the project was allegedly motivated by his request in a pay-to-play scheme that could catch the attention of prosecutors, according to the report, citing sources closely tied to the Community Benefits Agreement finalized early this year.

“It’s just not true,” said Greg Faulkner, Cabrera’s chief-of-staff, referring to the report. He didn’t elaborate further.

At the Borough Board meeting, Cabrera’s colleagues on the Council, namely Councilmembers Andy King and Oliver Koppell, who refused to reserve judgement on Cabrera’s alleged actions directly.

“Everyone has the intention to try and help their district the and their community...,” said King, who backs legislators requesting funds to better a community. At the meeting, King added that while he supports the project his Council vote would mirror Cabrera’s.

Koppell, the outgoing Councilmember, plans to vote in favor of the project even if Cabrera doesn’t.

“I believe that Councilman Cabrera’s support is important, but it’s not in my view determinative,” said Koppell. “I’m not saying that if Cabrera either voted no in the past, or would’ve voted no, or would vote no now that that necessarily would have blocked the project.”

Koppell knows from experience the Council doesn’t always side with the local rep. He experienced it firsthand when members voted in favor of the Croton Water Filtration Plant that falls within his district. In every case, the project needs 26 votes to pass or 34 votes to override any mayoral veto.

The final issues over the KNIC plan are being worked on down to the wire between KNIC developers and Cabrera, who’s now focused on growing traffic concerns related to the project.

Opponents believe the already swamped northwest Bronx nabe could see bumper-to-bumper traffic should the City Council and mayor choose the massive ice palace, home to nine ice skating rinks.

The traffic gripes were enough for local Community Board 7’s economic development committee to vote against the project, but the full board ultimately voted in favor of it in September under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the City Planning Commission and the city Landmarks Commission soon approved plans for the ice palace, slated to be built by 2018 if approved.

Faulkner argued that traffic concerns have not been studied closely enough given 7,000 guests per day projected at the center.

Faulkner believes traffic could be snarled with even a thousand guests per day. “That’s still a heavy amount of traffic,” he said.

But the sudden turn of events appears to be in contrast to Cabrera’s stance when the city Economic Development Corporation formally announced it had picked the ice rink plan developed by former Wall Streeter and eco-friendly builder Kevin Parker.

“This is going to become the Yankee Stadium of ice skating,” Cabrera boasted at the April 23 announcement. These days, he’s remained silent.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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