Armory Plan Final Push
By ALEX KRATZ
Community leader Ronn Jordan has big ideas for celebrating once the city begins its official search for a developer to take over renovation of the Kingsbridge Armory, set for early September.
He wants a bash held right on the Armory’s 600,000-square-foot drill floor. It would be a well-deserved reward for Jordan and other local officials and activists, whose tireless work over the past decade turned the Armory renovation, a huge, multi-million-dollar mixed-use redevelopment, from pipe dream to — keep your fingers crossed —imminent reality.
But there is still work left to do. Jordan and others on the Kingsbridge Armory task force – a loose group of local leaders and elected officials that is advising the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which manages the Armory and is writing the Request for Proposals (RFP) – still have one more meeting, on Tuesday, Aug. 29, to voice their hopes and concerns about the project.
After touring the facility on May 4, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff vowed an Armory RFP by August. The EDC now says the RFP will be released to the public shortly after the task force meeting sometime in “early September.”
Regardless, Jordan says the officials at the EDC have been “very receptive” to input from the community as it has gone about drafting the RFP, which outlines design requirements for contractors looking to take on the development project.
“They know what our position is on many of the details,” Jordan said.
At the final meeting, members of the task force are looking to emphasize two very important sticking points, which they want included in the RFP. They want ample and affordable space that will be accessible to the community. And they want jobs for Bronxites, both during and after construction, that pay solid, livable wages.
Recently, Council Member Oliver Koppell, who’s also a member of the task force, has voiced skepticism about the city’s commitment to including enough community space. He’s said he’s worried that the city’s RFP will neglect community space in favor of commercial space.
Community Board 7 Chair Greg Faulkner, another task force member, said he wants to see 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of community space, but admits the city will probably do whatever it wants to do.
“I don’t want to walk into the Armory and feel like I’m walking in to a big department store,” Faulkner said. “I want a place you can come in to and just hang out without feeling like you have to buy something.”
Jordan agrees, but says that might not be realistic.
“You don’t want [the Armory] to be like the Chelsea piers, where you need to have a membership just to go in,” Jordan said. “We can say that that’s what we prefer, but that puts a restriction on the developer.”
Jordan, who is president of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), a community group and catalyst in pushing the Armory project, said a developer might not be willing to take on the renovation if too much free community space is required.
A design created by the Atlantic Development Group — based largely on the ideas of its partner the Richman Group (which were themselves influenced by the NWBCCC, who brought the Richman Group into the process) — presented to Community Board 7 in May, allocated only 13,000 to 25,000 square feet of community space. The design also includes plans for a 57,000-square-foot YMCA. That could be considered community space, but the YMCA requires a membership fee.
Commercial space, on the other hand, will not be scarce. Most everyone involved with the project admits a large “big box” retail store will almost certainly set up shop. In its proposal, Atlantic said it had already lined up a deal with Lowe’s, a home improvement outlet.
Buoyed by a Chicago City Council resolution requiring big-box retailers, like Wal-Mart or Target, to pay workers $10 an hour and $3 an hour in benefits, Jordan’s group is pushing for similar wages from Armory retailers.
Pointing to the success of Target in Kingsbridge, Jordan argues that a wage requirement will not prevent retailers from moving into the Armory because the Bronx is such a hot commercial market.
“This is going to have to be the cost of doing business in the Bronx,” Jordan said. “The Bronx is the poorest urban county in the United States and we’re in the richest city in the country.”
Faulkner says he’s for a living wage as long as it doesn’t prevent the community from receiving cheap goods and services, which people in the suburbs take for granted.
In 2002, the City Council passed Initiative 66-A requiring anyone employed, contracted or sub-contracted by the city be paid a minimum “living wage” of $10 an hour by 2006. But that doesn’t include private employers. The current minimum wage in New York City is $6.75.
“We are aware that those issues [community space and a living wage] are important to the task force,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the EDC, who wouldn’t comment further because she said her agency was still working out the language for the RFP.
After the EDC releases its RFP in September, Patterson said the city will give contractors two or three months to submit proposals. Once all the proposals are in, Patterson said the EDC will exercise “due diligence” in choosing a contractor with the help of the task force. She declined to give any kind of a timetable for when the EDC would choose a developer.
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