Tag Archive | "Hunts Point"

The possible closing of post offices in the Bronx feels like government abandonment to some

17 post offices in the Bronx, reports WNYC News, are slated to be closed. Many Bronx residents rely on the post office to pay bills, rent, and keep in contact with family in other countries. The removal of post offices would disrupt the daily workings of the neighborhood, simply making life harder for some. The USPS encourages users to conduct business online, but internet access is a luxury  for many Bronx residents. “It sends the wrong message to this community and others like it,” said Miquela Craytor, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, ‘It says that you don’t matter, that you are not valued.”

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[SLIDESHOW] Boat builders test their teamwork, on ice

[SLIDESHOW] Boat builders test their teamwork, on ice

By: Mehroz Baig

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The Art of Lyrics

The Art of Lyrics is a monthly free styling event
at The Point, a non-profit cultural organization based in Hunts Point.
Watch this video to see how it’s keeping hip-hop alive in the Bronx, where it all began.

Video by Elettra Fiumi and David Alexander

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Multimedia, Southern BronxComments (1)

Incubating new businesses in Hunts Point

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx reception area. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx reception area. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

When Clarisel Gonzalez decided to expand her Mott Haven home-based new media business for journalists and local artists, she knew her hardest task would be finding office space she could afford.

Then, on Nov. 3, Gonzalez discovered Sunshine Bronx, a new city-funded venture that aims to provide affordable office space for 400 local entrepreneurs in Hunts Point’s newly renovated BankNote building. The program offers offices and desks for rent in the historic site, as well as on-site mentorship from successful business-owners to help fledgling new businesses in the Bronx build momentum.

Within five days of the ground breaking, Gonzalez became one of 60 applicants vying for space in the refurbished building which should be fully functional by February 2011. Cheni Yerushalmi, Sunshine Suites co-founder, said the response was “overwhelming but not surprising” due to what he sees as a lack of new business opportunities in the Bronx.

“People are hungry to be their own boss,” Gonzalez said.

Yerushalmi will take an active role in overseeing the activities and progress of the new Bronx “Shiners.”  A wide range of events and seminars will provide tenants with face-to-face access to veteran “Shiners” from Sunshine Suites’ offices in Tribeca and NoHo and give the rookie entrepreneurs opportunities to connect with successful Sunshine alumni and faculty members from Baruch College.

Entrepreneurs are enticed by the opportunity to expand their space and ingenuity. “I was drawn to Sunshine Bronx because if its location and because I really want to get my business out of my home and into an office,” Gonzalez said. “I also really enjoy the idea of networking opportunities because that’s what most of my business is about. It’s nice to have local support.”

Sunshine Bronx is the first business incubator in the borough, joining six others across the city since 2008. The incubator received a $250,000 grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, as did the other Sunshine Suites incubators.

“More than 15,000 new businesses were established in the Bronx in 2008,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the ground breaking. “We’re creating the Bronx business incubator to build on that momentum.”

With the help of Sunshine Bronx, Gonzalez aims to take her business from the pixelated computer screen and into real life, which is one of the aims of Sunshine Bronx.

The city began sponsoring the for-profit Sunshine Suites project ten years ago in other boroughs, as a way of boosting the local economy.

Many of the businesses cultivated in the Manhattan incubators have gone on to make millions and send workers back to mentor new business owners. Adobe, the creative computer program master, spent time in Sunshine Suites incubators as a start-up business.

Yerushalmi said that the Bronx was a natural choice for the next incubator, one of three that the city hopes to set up by the end of 2011.

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx conference room. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx conference room. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

“There’s 1.3 million people in the Bronx, but there’s a severe lack of resources for those who want to start their own businesses,” Yerushalmi said. “Sunshine has a great track record and with the help of Taconic Investment Partners, a Manhattan based real estate developer, we’ve been able to bring a great resource to the Bronx.”

In January 2008, Taconic Investment Management bought the historic BankNote building for $35 million from The Blauner family, which had owned it since the American Bank Note Co. left in 1985.  Taconic said its aim was to rent out space in the building that once printed currency and postage stamps to local community and arts organizations. Taconic Invesment Management signed a 10-year, low, rent-controlled lease with Sunshine.

Yerushalmi expects the 11,000-square-foot space to be self-sustaining within three years by renting out 180 work stations which are split between desks and co-working space for freelancers. Permanent desks rent for $295 a month while co-working stations go for $195 per month.

Sunshine Suites does background checks on all potential renters. Those who have criminal records are not offered space, but other than that there are no other renting requirements.

Gonzalez is looking into obtaining a permanent desk as a way to get out of her home and connect with more local entrepreneurs. “It’s such a great opportunity,” she said. “As soon as I heard about it I had to find out more.”

Cake Apparel Co. and Internet-based organic clothing company also expressed in moving in. Lorin Jones, the company’s marketing representative, said she was searching on Google for shared office space when she stumbled across a press release for Sunshine Bronx. “It looked like a great opportunity and I liked the location,” Jones said. Jones isn’t sure if she’s going to use the space. “I haven’t decided if we’re going to rent yet but it looks like a great way to take our business offline.” Cake Apparel has a large following in New York, Boston and Maryland and is based around the business model that organic clothing can be colorful and fun.

Yerushalmi said the biggest draw to these sites isn’t the cheap space, it’s the mentorship and networking opportunities, which is the aspect that most heavily drew Jones and Gonzalez. “Networking is very important to any business,” Yerushalmi said. “

And with Sunshine no one has to stay home with their cat.

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Fame Spotting

Three tag crews from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx joined artistic forces on September 18 to paint graffiti murals along a once vandalized facade that spans four buildings on Whitlock Avenue.

Hunts Point community organizers invited the local Tats Cru (also known as The Mural Kings), Brooklyn-based D.Y.M. and Queens-based G.F.R. to bring new life to the deserted strip that is populated by random chop shops. The crews painted colorful images of Mexican-inspired characters and an historical recreation of the Whitlock-stop train tracks.

The “live art” block party was organized by the 41st Police Precinct, promoters Bronx Vibe and Bronx Community Solutions, a non-profit organization that provides alternatives to incarceration.

For more about the culture behind Fame Spots like these, take a look at this slideshow.

Fame Spotting from Elettra Fiumi on Vimeo.

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Hip It and Hop It

Antonio Williams had never performed on stage in all his eight years, until he danced at Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night on September 7th.  He came in second.

His inexperience didn’t show as he break-danced alongside a professional at the “I Am The Bronx” live graffiti block party in Hunts Point on September 18th. That’s because Williams dances anywhere—Bryant Park, Central Park, or in the living room at home after he makes his mother move the furniture to the side.

“He’ll just dance, dance, dance for two or three hours until he wears himself out,” said his mother, Denicia Sutton.

Williams dancer-home

After he saw a video of his idol, Michael Jackson, just a year ago, he begged his mother to buy him tap shoes.

“He said, ‘It’s cool. You can play drums with your feet.’ So I got them and he’s been dancing ever since,” said Sutton.

Williams is completely self-taught, mostly via YouTube videos.

“I wanna be a dancer,” said Williams. “American idol’s greatest dancer. And I want to be a singer. I’m a great singer.”

Williams attends PS75 in Hunts Point and plans to audition for the Harlem Performing Arts School this January. In the meantime, he’s practicing a signature move he invented and named a Hip Hop Lock-it.

“It’s a move where you hip it and you hop it,” said Williams. “At first you just snap straight up and then you hop or jump and then you do a robot thing to finish it off. You push your chest inside your body, you put your hands out on the side of you, and then you move your arms every way. And my best part of it is the lock it: It’s when I do it and get out of control and spin around on my tippy toes and hit the ground. It’s a great move. I can show you.”

By Elettra Fiumi

Posted in Bronx Blog, Bronx LifeComments (3)

Hope for the “Ocelot” Tenants?

Entrance to Manida Street building, Photo by Wanda Hellmund

Entrance to Manida Street building, Photo by Wanda Hellmund

By Wanda Hellmund

It was a moment the tenants in the decaying apartment buildings on Manida Street had sought for more than two years. “Omni bought the debt,” Carmen Rodriguez, head of the residents’ group, declared at a tenant meeting on December 7.

The room–filled with Hunts Point residents who have endured rats, collapsing ceilings and months with no heat or hot water–erupted in applause

It has been a long fight for residents in Manida Street and hundreds of other residents in the decrepit Ocelot-owned buildings all over the Bronx. This is their first victory. But it was a victory with a caveat.

“This is a huge success for the tenants,” said Jill Roche from the Hunts Point Alliance for Children, who represented the Manida  Street tenants. “But there is still a very long road ahead for us.”

On Dec. 2, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the sale of the portfolio of 14 of 26 Ocelot-owned buildings to Omni New York LLC, a low-income real-estate development company, as a boon for residents all over the city. “The sale of these buildings to an affordable housing developer with a track record as strong as Omni’s is a home run for the residents, the neighborhood, and all of New York City,” the mayor said in a statement. “That’s something all of us can cheer.”

“Omni is thrilled to have been chosen as the successful bidder for the Ocelot portfolio,” Omni’s co-owner Maurice “Mo” Vaughn said in a statement.  Vaughan is a former New York Met player. “We look forward to moving ahead with the foreclosure process and substantial rehabilitation of these properties.”

“I want Omni to do right by us,” said Rodriguez, a 35-year-old mother of five, who had help lead the fight against Ocelot Capital Group that bought the four Manida Street buildings and 22 others across the Bronx in between 2006 and 2008, only to abandon them to foreclosure months later.

“We don’t want to be treated like trash no more.”

This pyrrhic victory may have a broader impact on future tenants’ cases against their landlords. “This is a success not only for these tenants,” said Roche. “This is a success for tenants all over the country.”

But the victory is muted. Omni did not buy the buildings outright from Ocelot. It bought their $23.8 million debt from Fannie Mae and Deutsche Bank. As long as the deeds are still held in the hands of companies linked to Ocelot, improvements may take some time.

What does this deal mean for tenants tomorrow? “Not a whole lot,” said Roche at the meeting. “But this is a huge step. It just might take a year or so.”

Omni officials pledged to transfer $1 million in emergency repairs to the current receivers in various buildings, though they are well aware that one million will not go far.

“I think $30 million is the right figure to put these buildings back to where they ought to be,” said Omni manager, Gene Schneur, acknowledging the enormity of the buildings’ decay.

For instance, the Bryant and Morris Avenue receiver claimed in October that he needed $325,000 alone to make capital improvements such as waterproofing, sidewalk repairs and new electrical services.

“Nothing is going to happen until we get the deeds,” said Schneur. “This could take 12 months, this could take 18 months. We hope it doesn’t.”

A spokesperson for Fannie Mae, which owns much of Ocelot’s bad debt, said Ocelot has not been cooperative. “So we had to sell the notes for now to secure the deeds,” said Jon Searles.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez is hopeful. She visited some of the buildings Omni has rehabilitated in the city – a portfolio that includes 2,937 units of affordable housing.

“You should have seen these buildings,” Rodriguez told Manida residents at the tenants meeting. “These buildings looked beautiful!”

Tenants are both excited and skeptical about the new developments.   “We would have preferred a non-profit organization,” said Jonathan Levy, a lawyer for the Ocelot tenants. “But this is the second best option for us.”

Most prefer to hold out hope. “We didn’t have hot water and heat for a year,” said Tamara Taylor, a 48-year old Manida Street tenant and mother of two. “Nobody was there to help us. “I have waited this long. I can wait a few more months.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, HousingComments (0)

Who Wants a Jail?

By Alex Berg

The new jail is proposed for the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain center, a jail on a barge.  By Alex Berg

The new jail is proposed for the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain center, a jail on a barge. By Alex Berg

From the second Lisa Ortega discovered a proposal for a new jail in her Hunts Point neighborhood three years ago she has been fighting it. Now that Bloomberg has appointed a new corrections’ commissioner, she is eager to find out what’s next.

But information about the status of the proposal has become even more difficult to obtain since September.

“It’s not going away. It’s not going to disappear,” said Ortega. “Whenever there is no news that means that things are brewing behind closed doors.”

The new jail was proposed for Halleck Street in the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain Center, an 800-bed men’s jail on a barge adjacent to the New Fulton Fish Market. It would have 1,200 beds and cost $650 million, said Jaime Stein, an Environmental Policy Analyst at Sustainable South Bronx.

“We’re the poorest congressional district,” Ortega, the head of Rights for Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities, said. “We’re lacking in so many things that it’s actually ridiculous to put in a jail.”

The proposal for the jail is currently undergoing an environmental review to assess the impact a new jail would have on the surrounding area. The assessment will result in a document for the Department of Corrections and will pre-empt a public hearing about the jail. However, the time frame for the environmental review, and subsequent hearing, is unknown, said Craig Chin, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings and Construction. The Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment.

This is worrisome for Ortega, who espouses the maxim “No jails here. Not nowhere,” and was once incarcerated herself. Her organization is part of Community in Unity, a coalition of organizations opposed to building the new jail, including the Bronx Defenders, Critical Resistance, Sustainable South Bronx and about 15 others. Since 2006, Community in Unity has resisted the construction of the jail through meetings and rallies, and continues to meet every month.

However, the coalition has been unable to meet with the new corrections commissioner, Dora Schriro, who replaced former commissioner Martin Horn in September. Though the coalition has met with Horn in the past, Schriro has refused to meet with them, Ortega said.

Today Ortega said she believes that the proposal, which was initially for a 2,000 bed-jail on privately owned land in Oak Point, is moving forward behind closed doors and that Schriro may be meeting with Bronx politicians.

“I think this is bullshit. The community doesn’t know,” she said.

In the past, Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Hunts Point councilwoman, and Jose Serrano, 16th District Representative, have vehemently opposed a jail in Hunts Point, which is also home to the Bridges Juvenile Center. A spokesperson from Senator Jose Serrano’s office said she had not heard about the jail proposal. Last summer YourNabe.com reported Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. opposed the jail when he was an assemblyman. Now borough president, he could not be reached for comment.

Stein said she was concerned a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a process that publicizes plans for the city’s land, would be approved over the holidays. The procedure calls for public hearings and many advocacy organizations would not have a presence due to the holidays.

“They know that we’re keeping our ear to the ground. You sort of hear that they try to do these things,” Stein said.

Community in Unity opposes placing the jail in Hunts Point because it will not effectively confront the cause of crime and perpetuates a cycle of incarceration. The money could be better spent on other needs in the South Bronx, like childcare centers, housing and job training programs, Ortega said.

“Our ideology is just this: we don’t really believe that jails are productive,” Ortega said. “The Bronx is heavy in people who are recovering. Jail just doesn’t cut it. I’m a recovering addict, 19 years sober. The system didn’t do anything.”

The proposed site in the jail barge’s parking lot was originally swampland, which may not be suitable for a building. The lot is currently blocked in with fences and barbed wire, in the shadow of the impending light-blue barge and surrounded by empty lots, auto shops and industrial plants.

There is already two detention facilities in Hunts Point. By Alex Berg

There is already two detention facilities in Hunts Point. By Alex Berg

“We need a better use for the land and there are so many good uses you could put waterfront property to,” John Robert, Community Board 2 district manager, said.

Those in favor of the jail have said it will generate jobs and think that the Bronx should provide a jail for its own inmates who account for 22 percent of Rikers inmates while the population of the Bronx accounts for only 15 percent of New York City, Robert said.

The proposal, which has evolved over the last three years, was initially part of a plan conceived by Horn to construct jails in every borough to shorten the commute to jail for families and lawyers, and for inmates going to and from borough courts. The new jail would also replace some units at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail with less than favorable conditions.

Community in Unity first learned about the initial Oak Point proposal in 2006. Over the next two years, the coalition staged protests, rallies and meetings to fight the proposal and in 2008 the original proposal was withdrawn.

In a 2008 statement to the New York City Council Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, Horn said that a new proposal was downsized at the behest of Bronx elected officials and community members. In the statement, he said that Corrections would additionally consider removing the jail barge altogether.

Ortega said she is concerned Community in Unity will not be able to repeat this success because the new land is city property.

Instead of building new facilities altogether, some organizations believe Rikers should be rehabbed and transportation to get to and around the island should be boosted, said Maggie Williams, who worked at the Bronx Defenders Voter Enfranchisement program.

“Instead you would invest into busses that would go from the boroughs to Rikers. Busses on Rikers do not come frequently,” Williams said. “The conditions on Rikers are abysmal. We need new structures.”

Still for Ortega, jails don’t solve anything.

“We’re saying ‘look there’s a lot of things we want,’” she said. “Give us due process and we can have a community meeting to figure it out.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, PoliticsComments (0)

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