NY’s Tuition-Free Program Has Not Relieved CUNY Students’ Financial Burden

By Perla Tolentino

Lehman College campus. Photos by Perla Tolentino.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the Excelsior Scholarship two years ago to much fanfare as a program promising tuition liberation to all N.Y. four-year colleges. But while Cuomo’s big offer was said to be alleviating, Lehman and other CUNY students continue to suffer financially. 

The main drawback seems to be the requirements that become prohibitive for a majority of students. Qualified students may receive up to $5,500 per semester, but applicants must meet a long list of requirements in order to receive full aid, as reported by Forbes a month after Cuomo announced the program. These include an income of less than $110,000, full-time enrollment of at least 12 credits per semester and a total of 30 credits per academic year, and no student loans in default, according to N.Y. Higher Education Services Corporation. Applicants who enrolled prior to 2018-19 must have earned 30 credits per year before applying for the program.

According to the New York Post, Governor Cuomo stated that the scholarship was intended to support middle-income families because most full-time lower-income CUNY students already receive enough government assistance to cover their tuition without the scholarship. That might explain the program’s lackluster results, which show that over two-thirds of applicants, or 68 percent according to Times Union, have been turned down. The N.Y. based newspaper also revealed that the 30-credit requirement is the main fail line for applicants. 

Lehman College Office of Financial Aid, located in Shuster Hall room 136.

Only 4,155 students across all of CUNY have been awarded the Excelsior Scholarship, according to Center for an Urban Future. In 2018, Lehman had a total enrollment of 11,230 students. Only 168 of these students received the Excelsior Scholarship, a mere 1.4 percent of the 2018 enrollment year. This is a sliver of the 59 percent of Lehman students who qualified for grants or scholarships and the 21 percent who are utilizing loans or other forms of financial support in order to pay for school, according to the Department of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment at Lehman. 

Because most financial aid only covers fall and spring semesters, the 30-credit requirement sets an especially high bar for working students who also depend on financial aid. Since they cannot afford to pay out of pocket for credits, they must take five classes each semester in addition to maintaining their work schedules, in order to be eligible for the Excelsior. 

Shut out of the tuition-free Excelsior promise, most Lehman students continue to seek other ways to cover their educational costs. “I knew about the Excelsior free-tuition program before and I have struggled a lot with financial aid. Unfortunately, I don’t qualify for either,” said Jesmy Pujols, a 35-year-old Lehman social work major in her third year. “I’ve had problems with my paperwork disappearing and my fall 2018 loan is still not even finalized yet,” she said.

“I knew about the Excelsior free-tuition program before and I have struggled a lot with financial aid. Unfortunately, I don’t qualify for either.” 

- Jesmy Pujols, a 35-year-old Lehman social work major

Steven Roa, a 23-year-old Lehman senior and English major, also reported difficulties with financial aid. “I’ve been struggling with financial aid since I was at LaGuardia Community College, and it was because they delayed my assistance,” he said. “I heard of the Excelsior Scholarship but didn’t look into it because I’m in my senior year.”

Lehman sophomore, Ashley Thomas, concurred. “Although I’m familiar with the Excelsior Scholarship, I have struggled with financial aid. In spring 2018 I had to take out a loan in order to cover my tuition.” The 22-year-old social work major offered this advice: “You have to be assertive and be knowledgeable. Ask questions and know the contact information of every financial aid representative available.” 

CUNY $6M Grant Will Help Revamp Lehman’s Child Care Center

By Perla Tolentino

One of the playgrounds available by Lehman’s gate 3 entrance in front of Goulden Avenue. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded CUNY a $6 million grant exclusively for child care centers. Lehman, Brooklyn, Baruch, Bronx Community, Kingsborough, and LaGuardia colleges were announced as recipients of the grant on Oct. 22, 2018. According to CUNY news outlets, LaGuardia will increase their enrollment capacities in 2019 to 263 and offer emotional and mental health resources for parents, and Kingsborough Community College plans to lower its childcare rate to as low as $1 per week for parents who attend classes. 

Lehman staff and student parents had many suggestions for how to use the funds at Lehman’s childcare center, which currently has six classrooms, two outside playgrounds, and a multipurpose room for gross motor play, after-school activities and celebrations. “I believe the funds should be used to create new programs including arts, crafts and music. They should reinforce the children’s food menu and library and also expand the playgrounds or invest in outside trips,” said Lisette Ventura, a 35-year-old mother and junior Spanish major at Lehman.

The center currently serves children between ages of two and nine years old and offers speech and hearing counseling, as well as education workshops focusing on behavior management and child development. The center also has a Pre-K program that offers full day classes to four-year-old children, funded by the New York City Department of Education. The goal of the program is to help with kindergarten preparation utilizing New York State Core Learning standards.

Another use of the grant money would be to pay for longer hours at the childcare center. Bronx Community College now plans to extend their hours from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to AM New York. However, Jaci Maurer, director of Lehman’s childcare center, questioned this choice. “Leaving from the campus so late at night may be convenient for the students, but is it for the children?” she inquired. “We advertise to be open until 9 p.m., but in some cases until 9:30 p.m. I believe that’s enough.” 

Later hours would help Martha Vergara, a Lehman sophomore and social work major who has a 9-year-old son. She explained that “balancing school and parenting is very hard for the both of us.” She was unaware that Lehman’s childcare center was open until 9:30 p.m.  “What I’m doing this semester is leaving my son in the cafeteria until I finish my class.”

Lehman’s child care center. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

Maurer believes that there are more urgent needs than schedule changes, and that parents have been surveyed about their priorities. “Our focus is to support staff members and parents,” she explained. “Social work and family training are some of the resources we will most likely invest in, which will alleviate the financial burden of the parents, as well as their busy life. Our goal is to help families stay in school.”

According to a care.com survey from July 17, 2018, the cost of childcare is increasing every year, leaving only 30 percent of American families able to afford it. This research also revealed that 63 percent of parents agree that the cost of childcare can affect their career decisions. 

In the Bronx, where US Census Bureau shows that the median family income is $36,593 per year with a poverty rate of 28 percent, parents struggle to afford childcare needs. To help lower-income parents at Lehman, the childcare center works with the Federal Block Grant which helps students afford child care expenses based on their income level. 

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for these students who are thriving through college and taking care of their children as well,” said Maurer.

Train Dysfunction Frustrates Lehmanites and Local Riders

By Perla Tolentino

A view of the Kingsbridge Road subway station of the 4 Train, close to Lehman’s entrance to the Student Life Building and Sports Field. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) transports more than 5.6 million New Yorkers on a daily basis. But recently, despite official pledges to improve the system, Lehman students and many other riders suffer the consequences of poor subway service on their daily commutes. 

Jeanine Guido, a Bronx resident who takes the 4 and 6 trains daily, said, “Some of the main delays I experience everyday are due to medical emergencies and lots of investigations and train traffic issues… trains are running slow in the mornings and they are very unreliable. It’s almost certain that you will get to work late.” 

Data released by Mass Transit Magazine shows a total of 65,487 train delays this October alone, which is more than triple the average from six years ago. According to the Fiscal Brief of the New York City’s Independent Budget Office, the average number of delays per month in 2012 was approximately 20,000. This year, the MTA posted 6,229 times in their alerts section for the first 10 days of November. These accounted for elevator and escalator outages, NYPD investigations, sick passengers, signal problems and track incidents. 

Three consecutive injuries were reported by the New York Post on Nov. 1. A man fell on the tracks at the 96th Street subway station of the 1 train around 2:47 p.m., causing major delays. He survived but bled profusely from his head. Two hours later, a passenger broke a leg on the train tracks of Jay Street, while another was struck by an N train.

These incidents have been escalating, despite the “action plan” the MTA anticipated since July of last year. According to “Bloomberg Online”, the plan concluded that more than $830 million was needed to fix the main causes of breakdowns and delays. This budget was also supposed to cover the expenses for new cars as a way to prevent overcrowding issues and to improve maintenance for elevators and escalators. 

With these costly projects and the continuous decrease in riders, the MTA’s debt is projected to reach $3.3 billion by 2022, according to the comptroller’s office. The surprise resignation of MTA chairman Joseph J. Lhota the day after midterm elections, poses another challenge for the MTA  regarding the end of incidents and delays. 

The result of such incidents is an increase in rider frustration. “The 4 trains are always crowded and delayed,” complained Michael Spencer, a Bronx resident who travels to Brooklyn every day.  “People are rude due to constant pushing, causing fights, accidents and more delays. I’ve been late to work so many times due to signal problems and sick passengers that I decided to use another route instead.” 

“I usually ride the 2 train in the mornings and the 4 in the afternoons. Sometimes the 2 train doesn’t work on the weekends and we have to take a bus, so getting to our destination takes extra time,” said 25-year-old Ellieth Recarte, a junior English major at Lehman.  She added, “Most of my friends come from Brooklyn all the way to the Bronx and they experience horrible delays.” 

Fordham Road D train subway station where a man was attacked with a hammer and an 11-year-old boy was robbed his phone. The D train also stops at Bedford Park Boulevard, which is connected to Lehman. Both incidents were reported by NBC News Channel 4. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

For those Lehmanites residing in New Jersey, the story is the same, but the commute is even longer. Joseph Yeboah-Mensah, an adjunct professor of mathematics, says, “My biggest frustration is when I have to come in the mornings.  There is always some kind of delay. I usually take the NJT, A and 4 train to come to Lehman. [At night] sometimes I get home by midnight when I finish my 7:50 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. statistics class.” 

Maria Sarmiento is another NJ resident who works in Brooklyn. She was on the New Jersey Transit the day a man was struck and killed on the tracks near Brick Church on Oct. 2. “I remember I took the train around 6:15 p.m. and made it home by 10 p.m. since we were forced to take a longer alternative route.” 

Claudia Drobchinskaya, a Brooklyn resident who rides the D and B trains, talked about difficulties with both lines. “I take the D and B train daily. Trains are always late and crowded, you have to ride standing in one leg and with your bags on top of your head if possible [and there] is always a sick passenger or a police investigation.” She continued, “When the D or B trains are down, I take the F, but I feel unsafe since there’s many substance abusing passengers.” 

Lidia Ochoa, a 25-year-old CUNY LaGuardia Community College student from Queens who rides the F train daily, concurred. “There are many crazy people in the F trains, either because of drugs or mental problems. They scream or start acting weird on the trains, it is very uncomfortable”.  

Some platforms have also proved more dangerous. New York Daily News reported the case of 55-year-old Edwin Pinez who was pushed to the tracks by a younger suspect for no apparent reason. The incident took place on the 4, 5 and 6 train Brooklyn platform before 8:00 am on Nov. 9, 2018. Pinez was later treated at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Meanwhile, the MTA continues to search for solutions. NYC Transit Authority’s CEO Andy Byford told the New York Times that delays can take up to 90 minutes to fix depending on the nature of the accident. His main goal is to reduce the number of delays by 10,000 every month. Byford had proposed platform doors as a solution to track accidents and stated that the cost of installing of these across all stations would be more than $1 billion. This proposal has now been postponed, with Byford instead investing in more elevators and escalators.

“It’s fair to complain,” Recarte said, “since we’ll have to pay $126 dollars for a monthly metro card, but the service doesn’t change.”

Dreamers Persist Against Threat of DACA Termination

By Perla Tolentino

Dreamers and DACA supporters march in an event organized by Antonio Alarcon to protest against the elimination decree. Photo courtesy of Lidiya Kan.

Trump’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, has yet to reach a solution either in Congress or the nation’s courts. On Oct. 17, according to the AP, the Justice Department informed the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that if the court does not rule on the case by Oct. 31, it will request that the Supreme Court do so. DACA’s termination would result in the loss of jobs, education, and life plans for more than 800,000 dreamers whom the program guarantees the same rights as naturally born U.S. citizens. While their futures hang in the balance, CUNY Dreamers are redoubling their commitment to their goals and communities. 

“I feel extremely safe at Lehman and in NYC in general. I have been living here for four years and always feel comfortable talking about my status in class,” a female Lehman DACA recipient told the Meridian on the condition of anonymity. The student, an English and History double major, praised Lehman as “a great sanctuary school where I can be myself and not be scared about my status.” 

She also believes that Lehman should advocate more on behalf of DACA students, and offer them more opportunities such as financial aid, scholarships and funding for master’s or Ph.D.  programs. “We are hard-working Americans who know no other home but this one,” she said. “I really want DACA to get legalized, that will ensure that me, my sister and our friends can work, live and study without fear of deportation.” 

“DACA provides students with federal grants. It gives them a nation they can feel a part of,” said Lehman professor, John Paul Gonzalez, from the Department of Latin American and Latino Studies. “Most dreamers who graduate obtain degrees in challenging majors such as medicine and social work.” Describing DACA as one of the best opportunities ever created, he accused Trump of “playing political games. His whole plan is an act of racism.” 

According to data released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the program has seen the number of applicants drop by nearly half. Numbers from the fiscal year of 2018 show a total of 286,247 applicants, which is only 51.78 percent of last year’s total. One reason may be that according to the USCIS website, after Trump’s order to halt the program, only renewals would be able to remain in the U.S. 

“DACA provides students with federal grants. It gives them a nation they can feel a part of.”  

- Lehman Latin American and Latino Studies professor, John Paul Gonzalez

However, DACA recipients have won many victories, including that of 24-year-old activist and dreamer Antonio Alarcon. Alarcon has been in several documentaries and his work inspires many dreamers and immigrants to continue to fight with hope and dignity. Besides joining the Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman from 2016 until 2018, Alarcon has been working to help immigrants since the age 14 as part of a non-profit organization called Make the Road. 

“I worked for ten years organizing events and coordinating funds to help immigrants,” Alarcon told the Meridian. “We helped them with college applications and lawyer representation for their immigration cases.” He also pointed out that Trump’s new Oct. 31 deadline would move the case to the jurisdiction of a more conservative Supreme Court. “Brett Kavanaugh, who is an anti-immigration conservative figure is now to decide for DACA as the new judge,” he said. 

Dreamers on DC, spreading a message of hope after Trump’s order to end DACA was made official. The protest was one of the many events organized by Antonio Alarcon as part of his community work to help immigrants fight for their rights and to defend the program. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Acá.

Meanwhile, Lehman seeks to keep enrolled DACA recipients informed about new updates and their possible benefits through weekly conferences held every Friday to aid dreamers, and address immigration barriers. Lehman also hosted a Constitution Day Event to educate students on laws used to fight for DACA on Sept. 18, 2018 at the Lovinger Theatre.

“Thanks God I’m in college,” said another DACA recipient and Lehman student who also requested anonymity, “but I have so many friends and family members who can’t go to college because we don’t get enough support.” The student, a 21-year-old Spanish major, also suggested other ways Lehman can support Dreamers. 

“Mostly everyone at Lehman is open-minded and I love that, but I think there are also people who might not want us dreamers here. Lehman should bring the Dream Team back permanently, and provide scholarships for us, since they are very hard to find in other places. DACA shouldn’t be the only thing we have. It is amazing to have it, but what about everyone else who doesn’t qualify and has big dreams?”

Locals Fear New Kingsbridge Development Spells Gentrification

By Perla Tolentino

The ongoing construction site viewed from the 4 Train Kingsbridge Road subway station. All photos by Perla Tolentino.

Kingsbridge residents see a construction site at Jerome Ave and West 196th Street as one more sign of encroaching gentrification. According to a January article in The Real Deal New York Real Estate News, the project’s mastermind, Alan Bell, has reserved 40 of the apartments in the Kingsbridge project for the homeless. But locals fear they will end up priced out of both the building and the neighborhood, since the ongoing construction is close to the Kingsbridge armory renovation which is expected to send rents soaring. 

“When in one of the poorest counties of NY you begin to see sudden construction of buildings of such high price, you know the gentrification phenomena has already begun,” said Leonor Santana, a Lehman senior and business administration major. She believes that gentrification is occurring and that local rents will end up being so high that only wealthy people will be able to afford to live here. 

Official sources tell a different story. A spokesperson at C+C Apartment Management LLC, (one of the contacts listed outside the construction site) told the Meridian that all applications will be processed by Housing Connect under a lottery. The spokesperson confirmed rent prices for only low-income families which represent the 60 percent of the area median income and moderate-income families which represent 90 percent of area median income in New York. For the low-income, C+C Management confirmed, $860 for a studio apartment, $923 for one bedroom, $1,114 for two bedroom and $1,281 for a three bedroom apartment. For the moderate-income, confirmed rent prices are, $1,305 for a studio apartment, $1,399 for one bedroom, $1,686 for two bedroom and $1,940 for a three bedroom. C+C Management referred clients to the NYC Housing Preservation & Development website to understand their income types and qualifications before applying. They also said a 17-car parking garage will also be built.  

According to a Jan 2016 article by New York YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard), 30 percent of the apartments will be for homeless tenants, 55 percent for low-income families and the remaining fifteen percent for middle-income families with annual incomes ranging from $51,780 to $71,760. However, this range is significantly higher than the median income of Bronx residents as a whole, which was $35,302 in 2016 according to US Census Bureau data. 

An inside look at the construction of the building that will hold 137 apartments and a parking lot located under the Kingsbridge Road train station.

Research by The Furman Center, in collaboration with the NYU School of Law and Wagner School of Public Service, shows that Kingsbridge has seen a gradual increase in rent over the past 12 years, from $1,093 in 2006, to $1450 in 2017 of median gross rent, compared to Bronx rents overall between $1,600 and $2,800 citywide. The research also revealed that in 2016, 37.5 percent of tenants had to spend more than 50 percent of household income only on rent, and that only 6.4 percent of Kingsbridge Heights/Bedford residents own their own homes. This data indicates how the vast majority of locals in this community depend on affordable housing and suggests that apartments in the new Kingsbridge project may not be within reach of many.

“Only rich people will be able to pay that kind of rent if they construct the ice rink.” 

- Bryan Diaz, Lehman computer science major and Bronx resident

Mabel Rojas, a processor for the Department of Buildings, told the Meridian that while the project is “definitely residential,” with 137 apartment units, she is “not sure if [it is] low income because the owners are private, but they might sell to the city after.” [Full disclosure: Rojas is the sister of the managng editor.] Rojas also said that the 13-story building is mixed use so the ground floor will be used for business. “They paid over 40k to the city in fees, but the overall cost is not yet determined” Rojas added. 

Lehman students’ biggest concern is how long apartments in this building will stay “affordable,” and many told the Meridian that they doubt they will be. They also believe the project is another sign of the gentrification occurring throughout many Bronx communities. 

Bryan Diaz, a Lehman Computer Science major student who has lived in the Bronx for the past eight years, is convinced that the project is lucre-focused only. Like many locals, he believes developers are trying to cash in on the renovation of the Kingsbridge Armory, which is expected to bring more business to the area. “Knowing what is about to happen to the armory, they know constructing a building for rich people is more suitable,” he said. “They know only rich people will be able to pay that kind of rent if they construct the ice rink.” 

According to a March report by Norwood News, the Kingsbridge Armory will begin its long-delayed transformation between November 2018 and January 2019. Bell told Norwood News that the Kingsbridge apartment building has little to do with the armory project. The Real Deal New York Real Estate News also states that in 2010 Bell left the Hudson Company Inc., a market-rate development company he founded in 1986, to found a new affordable housing company named B&B Urban.  However, Bell has not yet mentioned having an action plan to block the increase of rent in the area, if the armory project actually happens. 

While it is impossible to foresee its impact for sure, many Lehman students remain pessimistic. Diaz believes that developers will transform the area by building hotels catering to future tourists. “Kingsbridge will become a totally different neighborhood,” he predicted. 

Target’s Self-Checkout System Frustrates Workers and Customers

By Perla Tolentino
A wide-angle view of the self-checkout station, showing that no team members were helping customers at the moment. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

A wide-angle view of the self-checkout station, showing that no team members were helping customers at the moment. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

The Marble Hill Target on 225th street in the Bronx recently introduced new self-checkout registers to improve customers’ shopping experience, but the changeover has disappointed many workers and local shoppers. Their experiences suggest that customers and staff may end up paying a steep price for the move.

Rhadames de la Cruz, a former Target employee, suggested that these innovative point of sale machines are meant to benefit customers by increasing efficiency. Three Target team members at the store who did not want to be named agreed that the new registers have shortened lines at the registers. 

Other employees, however, argue that the self-checkout system brings the threat of layoffs. One team member, Dulce, who asked not to give her last name, explained “They hired around 100 seasonal employees last year. They were all let go after they started the self-service, especially in the night shift there are not so many employees sometimes.” Dulce told the Meridian that most companies hire seasonal employees to avoid paying taxes and the expense of annual wage increases. She thinks the self-checkout registers may bring higher sales, but added, “I don’t think they will hire new employees any soon.” 

Research supports her view. According to a study cited in a Guardian article from Aug. 2016, 7.5m retail jobs in the US “are at ‘high risk of computerization,” with the 3.5m cashiers likely to be particularly hard hit.” The article also quoted a Target employee in Wisconsin, Caleb Kulick, who summarized the impact of the new self-checkout system: “Suddenly, a job which used to require four employees now only requires one.”

Target Department Store at 225th in the Bronx. At 7:05PM the lights of almost all Self-Checkout registers appear to be lit indicating the register is open. Behind them the lights of only 4 out of 29 available manual registers that require team members are lit. Photo by Perla Tolentino.

Many regular customers at the 225th location also think the registers have worsened, not improved, their shopping experience. Scarlett Nuñez, who was shopping in her work uniform, said she shops in Target almost every day. “The self-checkout registers are constantly damaged or not working, I’d rather just go to the cashiers.” Another customer who also shops regularly at the store agreed. 

Rosy Morel, a 25-year-old Lehman College graduate, also expressed her frustration with the new machines. “Sometimes they don’t work, and when they do, they still require a cashier, like when I’m buying fruits and vegetables, they have to come and put a code,” she said. Rosy noticed that the new registers were taking over the jobs of Target associates.

Bronx residents are dissatisfied with the self-checkout registers because they feel that the registers still require assistance from target associates — which is now often slower to arrive. Jasmille Peralta, a Bronx resident who shops at both 225th and the 161st street locations said that the wait is the same when you are using the self-checkout. “Some functions of the self-checkout require a team member, but they are never around so I have to wait for a long time for one of them to come. One time, I waited for almost an hour,” she said. 

Lesia Willis, Vice President of the Career Services Department & Alumni Affairs of ASA College in Manhattan, is also frustrated. She said the system “is just not as efficient, you still need a team member for some of the transactions made.” Willis said she prefers the old cashier registers since she uses coupons and these usually have to be supervised by team members.

An additional downside of the automated system is an apparent increase in theft. Madeline Espinosa, a Bronx resident and regular shopper at the 225th location pointed out that self-checkout machines often see a rise in shoplifting. Espinosa was employed in the Target store in Temple, PA in 2013 where the self-checkout registers were launched first. She said the loss prevention team at the time in her PA store noticed that many of the items missing weren’t stolen on the floor, but at the self-checkout lanes. “At that store we had secret shoppers and two security guards at all time and very rarely they found people shop lifting, but they were short when inventory was done. So they realized that the gap had increased since they added the self-checkout registers,” she said.

A taxi driver who operates outside of the 225th Target store, Roger Oseda better known as “Tito” also believes that the new system has driven up theft. He pointed to circumstantial evidence of this. “There is always someone stealing something in there. They always have to call the police.” His observations are confirmed by data. According to Atlantic Magazine, a 2015 study of one million self-checkout transactions in the UK showed that almost $850,000 worth of items “left the store without being scanned and paid for.”

Ultimately, Target’s new investment may lead them to lose more than was projected.  According to an April article in Forbes, Target’s new implementation has not been profitable, causing a decrease in their earnings growth in the last year.

Bronxites Fear New Ice Rink Will Cause Meltdown

By Perla Tolentino

The Kingsbridge Armory has remained vacant since 1996. Photo by Perla Tolentino. [Page 3]

After more than five years of discussions, the monumental Kingsbridge Armory will soon be drastically transformed, and many locals worry they will be on the losing end of the deal. 

Built in 1910, the Eighth Regiment Armory has not been militarily active since 1996. Since then however, it has been serving the community as a city management office, and has also welcomed Lehman for special events, conferences, and even served as an arena for concerts. According to The Riverdale Press, soon it will be opening its door to the sports community, holding national games and many other sporting events. The former captain of the New York Rangers, Mark Messier, is the head of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center and is attempting to replace the 750,000 square-foot historical armory with the largest ice rink facility in the world. 

The project is the main topic at monthly Kingsbridge Small Business meetings attended by many local residents and small business owners in the area. Mohamed Ali, owner of Grocery Candy Stop 1, said he attended a recent meeting in early March and received flyers from the Commercial Lease Assistant Program. “It’s really happening this time,” he said. 

Small business owners around the armory fear they will be pushed out due to rent increases that will occur if this project is finalized. Patrick Lim, 32, has already lost one store to rent hikes. Lim owns a vegetable market with his father in front of the south part of the armory, with a current long-term lease of ten years. Originally, they owned two, with the second store located close to the diner on the north side. Lim said that when they were trying to renew the lease, the landlords refused to give them a long-term contract, and also increased their rent. Their lack of willingness to negotiate forced Lim and his father to close the second store. 

“All owners across the armory are operating their businesses without a lease contract, they can ask them to leave any minute now,” said Lim. He also told the Meridian he has also been receiving project newsletters regarding the new project. After closing the mini-market he said some of his employees were let go. 

Yamilet Castillo, who works at the local barber shop, echoed Lim’s concerns. She claims that the shop’s rent has doubled, and fears rents will continue to increase, eventually forcing it to shut down. 

Businesses across the north side of the armory currently without a lease. The closed gate on the corner is the second market Patrick Lim was forced to close. Photo by Perla Tolentino. 

Some residents and business owners, however, were more skeptical about the project’s chances of being completed and stated that the rumors are just speculations. Jenny Vangelatos, owner of New Capitol Restaurant located on the corner of Kingsbridge and Jerome Avenues, was not as alarmed as other business owners. “I have been attending community meetings on a monthly basis and I have heard of this situation since 2014, but it’s not happening yet,” she said. Vangelatos refused to comment on high rent issues. 

The project has been delayed by numerous issues. The New York Post announced in 2017 that Messier and the project’s founder Kevin Parker were denied entry to the historical army house because of a lawsuit between the developers and city officials. Apparently, the city is requesting proof of sufficient funds for the project. The paper also stated that Mayor de Blasio was supporting the project.

Many residents are now beginning to believe the rumors may be true. If the project takes place, Kingsbridge will be a center of attraction for many tourists and visitors from around the U.S., but residents will also be forced to pay higher rents and the neighborhood will become gentrified.  

In the meantime, according to Sergeant Ramirez of the New York National Guard, the Kingsbridge Armory remains open with activities such as the National Guard Army program. Regardless of the outcome of this project, the armory will remain a cornerstone of the Kingsbridge community and the Bronx.