Ruben Diaz Jr. pushes for Bronx waterfront development he championed as borough president
Former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is being paid $20,000 a month to lobby for a massive real estate project at the foot of Fordham Road – a project that lobbyists had sought his ear for during his last months in power last year.
Fordham Landing is a planned $2 billion, 40-acre mega-development proposed by a Greenwich, Connecticut company called Dynamic Star LLC, linked to former President Donald Trump’s inner circle. Facing the Harlem River across from Inwood, its 5 million square feet would include nearly 2,800 apartments four train stops from Grand Central via the University Heights Metro-North station.
State and city lobbying records show that on March 23, Diaz signed a contract with Dynamic Star that engages his company Nuevo Diaz and Associates LLC to “provide government relations services in New York City.” and potentially other services from March 10 to September 1. 10 – a pass worth $120,000 to the former borough president.
Diaz is pushing the Fordham Landing project for a “real estate determination,” city lobbying records show. A state filing says he expects to lobby the municipal departments of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Transportation (DOT) over municipal land use.
Joint Commission on Public Ethics records also show that a second lobbying firm working for Dynamic Star, Kasirer LLC, said it targeted Diaz in the last two months of 2021, in connection with “approvals and license at 320 W. Fordham Road, Bronx”.
The city’s ethics rules include a lifetime ban that prohibits former officials from appearing before the city or receiving compensation for “services rendered” on any matter in which they “personally and substantially participated” while they were on the city payroll. This includes decisions, approvals, recommendations, investigations and “other similar activities”.
But Diaz also championed the Bronx’s west waterfront development during his dozen years as borough president. In his 2015 State of the Borough address, he said, “A complete makeover of the Harlem River waterfront is coming.
Among the highlights: “To the north, we have Fordham Landing. This site could accommodate up to one million square feet of mixed-use development, including housing of all types, community spaces and additional waterfront and park amenities.
“This is a great site for a public/private partnership, and we will work with owners and future developers to activate and revitalize the Northwest Bronx.”
He elaborated on his vision during an October 2017 New York Building Conference breakfast, saying, “I would like the West Side of the Bronx to have contiguous accessibility to the waterfront, much like what you see on the west side of Manhattan.
Dynamic Star isn’t the only big name Bronx player to pay the former borough president. Diaz is still a full-time executive at Montefiore Medicine, where he has served as senior vice president of strategic initiatives since February.
And on Monday, consulting firm Actum announced that Diaz would join as co-chair “in an advisory capacity,” Actum partner Rachel Noerdlinger said in an interview.
He will also retain his own company, Nuevo Diaz & Associates LLC, Nordlinger said.
A person who answered the number listed for Nuevo Diaz & Associates did not respond to a request for comment. Diaz did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Dynamic Star manager Brad Zackson did not respond to a request for comment.
Diaz incorporated Nuevo Diaz & Associates LLC in April 2021, although he still had nine months left as a public servant. And he did it in Albany County, several miles from his home turf in the Bronx.
This arrangement with Dynamic means that by the time the developer was paying a lobbyist to solicit Diaz’s support for his big development, he already intended to become a lobbyist.
This appears to put him dangerously close to violating city conflict of interest laws that prohibit city employees from receiving compensation regarding a matter in which they had “personally and substantially participated as an official through a decision, approval, recommendation, investigation or other similar activity”. .”
The extent to which Diaz interacted with the Fordham Landing developer before leaving office is unknown. Borough presidents have a say in land use issues, and Fordham Landing is no exception.
Dynamic Star had paid the firm run by veteran lobbyist Suri Kasirer to implore several officials, including Diaz, during his final months as Bronx borough president. Zackson, the company’s co-founder, told Norwood News in November that its executives met personally with Diaz and his staff while he was still borough president to discuss Fordham Landing.
While it’s clear that Diaz has been involved in discussions with the developers, it’s unclear if he’s taken any official action on this project, which has yet to receive approval for the use of the lands of new Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson.
“This project is in the very early stages of conversations and as Borough President, it is my responsibility to ensure that any development at Fordham Landing includes community input and engagement,” said Gibson in a statement via a spokesperson. “Affordable housing must be a real priority and include home ownership opportunities to create economic wealth and bridges to the middle class for our residents and families.
Bigger than the Hudson yards
Diaz signed his lobbying contract with Dynamic Star development director Brad Zackson, whose long history in New York real estate has seen him work closely with two Trump intimates.
Zackson began renting apartments to tenants in Queens in the name of Fred Trump, Donald’s father. The elder Trump had settled a federal civil rights case years earlier after investigators determined Trump’s buildings were discriminated against in rejecting black applicants. Most recently, Zackson collaborated with Paul Manafort on real estate investments, before Manafort became Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman in 2016.
Crushing Hudson Yards, Fordham Landing as proposed would be the city’s largest real estate project since that West Side development.
Spanning a strip of land straddling the University Heights Bridge along the Harlem River to Target in Marble Hill, the estimated $2 billion project is expected to include 2,800 apartments, 30% of which would be affordable, a 700 000 square foot science center, plazas, an esports amphitheater and a concert hall, Norwood News reported last year.
Fordham Landing is still years away from innovating. The project must go through a public review process known as the Universal Land Use Review Procedure – or ULURP – which would begin in 2023 at the earliest.
Bronx Community Board 7 District Manager Ischia Bravo said she had a “brief” informal meeting with the developer in 2020, but the board had not held a formal meeting.
“There is always a concern when a project of this magnitude changes the dynamics of the community, and we want to make sure there are resources attached to it, especially when you bring in a number of residents,” Bravo said. “We look at resources like transportation, schools – typical concerns.”
Local councilor Pierina Sanchez, in a statement to THE CITY, urged the project to take seriously the many needs of the community as a whole. If it is still in use when the project goes through ULURP, it will likely influence final approvals or concessions to the local community.
“The proposed $2 billion Fordham Landing project is the largest proposed new development in recent New York City history, taking place in one of the city’s most economically challenged neighborhoods…. We’ve never had real access to the Harlem River waterfront, and we’re also battling a high rate of traffic incidents and fatalities,” she said.
“Any proposed development must center the most pressing needs of our Bronx community to gain my support. Over the coming months, I look forward to supporting an independent community contribution process that centers the needs of our community.”
Last week, the city’s building department denied a permit associated with 320 West Fordham Rd., the project’s southernmost lot.
This site, just south of the University Heights Bridge, would carry a 17-story mixed-use building. Dynamic Star purchased the property for $31.5 million in 2019. An additional site – 2475 Exterior Street, purchased for $31.75 million in 2020 – is expected to feature a mixed-use building including rentals, student housing, a public school, research center, retail and office space.