A rendering of the Gateway Mall as seen from Manhattan

Coalition monitors Gateway Mall’s promise

By Joe Hirsch

Will the mall rising near Yankee Stadium live up to an agreement to hire local job seekers when stores open in the coming months?

A newly-formed coalition is skeptical.

Calling itself the Neighborhood Advisory Council, the coalition met at the offices of housing advocacy organization Nos Quedamos on Melrose Avenue in late March to tackle some of the area’s toughest problems, including jobs.

Some 40 local organizers, police officials and local residents also addressed issues of education, health and the environment, housing, and crime and safety, in what organizers say will be an ongoing series of meetings designed to let residents and advocates inform the public and speak their minds about the issues.

The new mall, called the Gateway Center, signed an agreement to give priority to job seekers from the neighborhood. “People have choked on the agreement,” said Jeanette Puryear, executive director of the Mid-Bronx Council Services, which, along with Nos Quedamos, is spearheading the Neighborhood Advisory Council.

Angel Cruz, executive director of the Gateway project’s Fast Track Unit, which was created to ensure that the developers live up to their end of the bargain, assured the audience that he will be working for them, not for the businesses.

He acknowledged that the sputtering economy is likely to swell the number of job applicants from across the city. Nevertheless, he tried to assure the dubious audience, saying, “I’m an agent of the community.”

Home Depot will be the first store to open at the mall, on the site of the former Bronx Terminal Market. Bed, Bath and Beyond, Staples and Target are among the other national franchise giants that will open branches in the mall.

Job applications are online. “Those jobs have to be made available to people who live here,” Puryear insisted.

“At 16 years of age, I was able to go and get my first job,” at Alexander’s, then the borough’s leading department store, said a woman who declined to give her name. The woman lamented that local retailers no longer make the same type of effort to hire locally.

“That is not existing anymore,” she said.

In addition to the Gateway Mall, the meeting addressed concern about rising gang activity and about access to health care.

Saying gangs are now recruiting children as young as 7 to join, NYPD officials and officers from the 40th Precinct described efforts aimed at steering local youth away from gangs.

Also, a health expert said that hospitals continually discriminate against poor people by offering more timely and more complete care to patients with private insurance than to patients with Medicaid, or the uninsured. Charmaine Ruddock of Bronx Health REACH said her organization is pressing Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to ratchet up investigations into discriminatory practices at hospitals across the city.

Patients who feel they have received substandard care because they are on Medicaid or have no insurance, are urged to contact Bronx Health Reach at 212-633-0800, ext. 1232 or to file a complaint with the hospital.

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