The Future of the Armory?

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ONE MORE LAP AROUND THE ARMORY   10.19.07

To grasp the size of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx is to remember that for two decades it was known as the Kingsbridge Armory Speedrome. Beginning in the late 40s, the cavernous armory held races on an oval track over the largest drill floor in the world, measuring 180,000 square feet.

To understand the contentious political debate over the future use of the Armory is to be reminded that the space, all 575,000 square feet, has been effectively vacant since the 258th Field Artillery Regiment moved elsewhere in 1994. Built between 1914-1918, the castle-facaded Armory has been a source of frustrated envy for city political leaders and developers for over a decade.

With the City expected to announce the winning proposal within weeks, the Kingsbridge community is turning on the heat once more to ensure the finished project anchors the community, instead of torpedoes it. The community was successful in defeating former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s plan to transform the armory into a shopping mall.

The four square blocks of Armory are currently owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who have been overseeing the development proposals. “I can’t speak to previous attempts under other administrations,” said Janel Patterson, vice president of public affairs for the EDC. “But I can tell you in the current undertaking, we have tried to include all the stakeholders and work together. It is a very complex project.”

The Request for Proposal was solicited the second time around by the Kingsbridge Armory Task Force, composed of the Bronx heavyweight politicians. While schools were originally touted as a necessary prerequisite of the proposals, the RFP finally released in September of 2006 called for schools to be built in adjacent buildings.

While the schools in the Bronx currently experience overcrowding at a significant rate, the community is now defending against losing the schools altogether. “The city is disputing the need to build more high school seats due to the high dropout rate,” said Ava Farkas, an organizer with Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, an umbrella organization charged with addressing the various community needs.

In a report commissioned by the New York City School Construction Authority and prepared by the Grier Partnership in January 2007, the report concludes that, “After 2010 there will be a sharp decline with a loss of 14,900 children over the next decade.” There has been a steady increase in population in the Bronx over the last decade,.

The community leaders are now more concerned in securing retail jobs paying over $10/hour and to get a strong commitment from the city that some construction jobs will stay in the community. There is a palpable sense of unease in regards to these projects after the Croton Filtration Plant has left promises unfulfilled, as Bronx Community Board 7 Chairman Gregory Faukner articulated.

Once the proposal is selected, the project will have to go through another public review, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which involves community board, borough board, city planning and city council. The end is in sight. What that end looks like is still anyone’s guess.

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