Q & A with South Bronx redevelopment expert Phillip Morrow

By James Kelly | July 20, 2009 11:49AM

Phillip Morrow is the president and CEO of SoBro, the non-profit South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, whose goals include improving affordable housing in the area, restoring use to vacant properties, and helping small businesses. Morrow has been with the organization since 1996.

Prior to joining SoBro, Morrow was responsible for housing and economic development projects for the Harlem Urban Development Corporation, personally supervising the construction or rehabilitation of over 5,000 residential units in Harlem.

The Real Deal spoke with Morrow about rezoning and redevelopment efforts that are underway in the South Bronx.

Can you briefly describe the rezoning planned for the South Bronx, and what kind of development this will allow for?

The area is all along the [Harlem River] waterfront, north to 138th Street and East to Morris Avenue. A good part of it — including the area near the Third Avenue Bridge, south of the Bruckner Expressway — is already rezoned.

It was previously M1 zoning, so it is mainly warehouses, shipping, storage facilities and some manufacturing there now. Soon it will allow for pretty dense, residential development.

Existing industrial properties will still be allowed. You have the Verizon building, Kelly Furniture, a milk truck depot, an auto auction building — some are relatively new, and you have very active businesses that will stay.

We think the vacant properties are likely to be converted [to residential use]. Some people have moved in [to vacant properties] as illegal loft conversions and things like that, but now that will all be legal.

Will retail be allowed under the new rezoning?

Yes, but there is some limitation on the retail. We wanted to help put in a supermarket, but apparently it was above the allowable square footage.

alternate textSouth Bronx waterfront

Is there any area of the South Bronx that you expect to lend itself to market-rate and higher-end residential projects?

Bruckner Boulevard, and just south of Bruckner Boulevard. I suspect that will have more potential for market-rate housing than the rest of the area.

What kind of time frame do you expect for the redevelopment, given current market conditions?

I don’t think much is going to happen immediately. If this zoning had occurred five years ago it would have seen considerable interest from residential developers — it has waterfront sites and good access to Manhattan.

I think there will eventually be residential development over the entire area from the Gateway Center south to the Bruckner Expressway, but it will come over the next 10 or 15 years.

There are already a couple hotels being planned, and I anticipate at least one will be built in the next four or five years. We believe there should be one near Yankee Stadium, on 149th Street or something.

There is a dearth of hotels in the Bronx. Any city of its size would have several hotels. There are a few motels, but nothing comparable to the Marriott in Downtown Brooklyn, for example. We need something like that over here.