Vol. 13, No. 6 March 23 - April 5, 2000



     
 

Coming to an Armory Near You

Operators of Manhattan Sports Complex Hope to Score in Bronx

By JORDAN MOSS

I
n choosing RD Management to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory, the city cites the company's experience in developing retail space throughout the country. But planners also point to an RD subsidiary, Basketball City, as a reason why it thinks the company is perfectly suited for the task at hand.

While the RD plan does not include any space for schools, as desired by community groups and Community School Board 10, Basketball City, which will operate the renovated facility if it gains final approval in a land-use review process, says its programs in the landmark building will fulfill another important community need -- recreational facilities for youth.

Basketball City operates an athletic facility contained in a giant bubble just north of Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan. It has six hard-wood basketball courts that double as volleyball courts, the most under one roof anywhere in the city. While most users and leagues pay for the courts, Basketball City launched Jump Star,t a nonprofit that donates court time to local schools lacking gym space. Currently, about 11 schools use the space at no charge, courtesy of Jump Start, which was founded by Bruce Radler, part owner of Basketball City.

"We saw that we had a wonderful facility [but] basketball is an inner-city game and a lot of people might not be able to participate," Radler says. So, the best way to get those people playing basketball, he explained was to "set up a foundation to tap into our corporate clientele." Now companies like BlackRock Financial Management, Bank United Corporation and Capital Trust make donations to Jump Start to give school kids court time.

Also, working with local schools and community centers, Jump Start launched a program last year to award kids scholarships to summer and holiday basketball camps run by professional ball players.

Tommy Hemans, director of the Public School Athletic League, says Jump Start is fulfilling a growing need in the city's school system. Many schools have sports teams with no place to play, Hemans said. "There's a definite need for this kind of facility in New York City," he said. "I would heartily endorse any effort that would lead to the expansion of these kinds of services."

Radler and partner Gary McEntee say they want to bring Jump Start to the sports facility they hope will take root in the armory. Even so, community residents who support using the space to build three public schools worry that, aside from any donations of court time Basketball City may make to the community, fees for its sports facilities will be out of the range of local residents, many of whom receive public assistance.

McEntee and Radler say they understand their Bronx audience will be different than their Manhattan one and said they will adjust prices accordingly.

They also see the recreational facilities as the beneficiary of the income they will receive from the retail portion of the property.

"We intend to operate the recreational facilities more as an amenity to the community," McEntee said.

Basketball City recently opened a recreation complex in Boston and also has plans to develop a facility on the east side of Manhattan near the Manhattan Bridge. Because of plans to build the Hudson River Park along the west side, Basketball City will eventually have to vacate its current site. Basketball City's lease expires in 10 months but McEntee says his company plans to exercise two two-year options to renew, which would allow it to stay put until 2004.

But John Doswell, chairman of the Friends of Hudson River Park, says local community and environmental groups hope to burst Basketball City's bubble by pushing the Hudson River Park Trust, an entity created by the city and state to construct the waterfront park from Batter Park City to 59th Street, to develop the site Basketball City is on much sooner than 2004.

Whatever happens, McEntee says their status on the west side is not relevant to their desire to develop the Kingsbridge Armory.

"We're interested in armory for it's own benefit," McEntee said. "Those two don't piggyback on each other."

In picking RD and Basketball City and their team of architects, builders and environmental consultants, the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC), pointed to the experience of team member Turner Construction and an environmental consulting company it partly owns in retrofitting a Naval facility in Washington, DC. That building is of similar vintage to the armory, but had greater environmental problems, according to an EDC official.

Radler and McEntee and the RD team are busy trying to put all the pieces in place to realize their plans for the armory. According to McEntee, RD has 120 days from the date of the "designation letter" from the city to secure tenants for the retail space they have planned for the armory. EDC officials would not comment on the precise date of that letter.

Now that the city has given RD the ball on the armory project, the plan will have to navigate the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which will require the approval of several levels of city government, from the community board to the City Council. Local elected officials, however, seem to be offering their tentative support for the plan, pending negotiations around the addition of two public schools in the area.

Meanwhile, McEntee said he recognized that his organization has not done the work of reaching out to local Bronx residents, some of whom oppose the RD plan. But he said he plans to do that in the coming weeks.

"I want that dialogue and we want that input," McEntee said.

 

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