Vol. 13, No. 6 March 22 - April 5, 2000



     
 

City, Local Group Disagree on Viability of Schools in Armory

By JORDAN MOSS

At the crux of the local debate over the development of the Kingsbridge Armory is whether or not the landmark facility should or can include space for public schools.

In interviews with the Norwood News, officials of the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) insist that the plan presented jointly by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development would not be able to sustain the redevelopment of the facility.

"The project proposed by Pratt [and the coalition] could not possibly pay to keep the building running even if they were to scrape together $110 million to [renovate] it," said an EDC official who has worked on the armory project. "Schools don't generate revenue. They are a consumer of city revenue." The groups' plan includes space for three public schools, athletic fields, and community program space, along with 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail space (see below).

(The Norwood News interviewed the EDC official quoted in this article at the agency's Manhattan offices on the condition of anonymity.)

EDC, which has already selected a developer, RD Management, and its subsidiary, Basketball City, to transform the vacant, deteriorating landmark facility into a retail, entertainment and sports complex, also maintains that building schools in the armory would be more costly and less efficient than finding space outside the armory and building from scratch.

"How much operating revenue would schools in there take compared to a school built modern rather than a retrofit?" said an EDC official who has worked on the project. "Putting a school up on a vacant lot is nowhere near as problematic and expensive as retrofitting an ancient, ancient building. What we're saying is only this type of a project profile, economic profile, can afford to build this and then pay for it afterwards."

Joan Byron, Pratt's director of architecture, disagrees. Including schools would be a big boon to the upkeep of the armory because it's a steady source of income guaranteed to flow into the facility, she said. "Schools don't generate income but schools pay their way," Byron said. The commercial model proposed by EDC is at a disadvantage because the developer does need to consistently generate income and pay off debt to stay afloat, Byron argued, adding that the community facility portions of the Coalition/Pratt plan would be able to sustain their operations through rent and program income.

Byron also thinks schools are a perfect fit because the city needs to build schools in District 10 anyway, and, she says, they would cost less to build in the armory.
"The city has an obligation to provide school space for those kids somewhere, and it's not going to cost any different to operate schools in the armory than it would cost to operate them anywhere else," Byron said. "And there's a couple of features that make it cost less per kid."

Schools would be able to share kitchen facilities, and because they would be constructed within the armory in what Byron calls a "protected environment," heating costs would be reduced.

The coalition is also pushing the city to take advantage of Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, which are federal tax credits available to states for use in renovating old building for school use. There is $120 million available through that program that New York has not tapped into yet, and coalition members say that would further reduce the cost of building schools at the armory. The Norwood News recently reported recently that the Chicago school system used QZAB money to renovate an armory for a high school.

But the EDC official rejected the comparison of the Chicago armory, which is much smaller than its Kingsbridge counterpart.

"The fact that there's another armory suitable for schools doesn't have much bearing on this one," he said.

Members of the coalition met with Michael Carey, head of EDC, and Joe Rose, head of the City Planning Commission last Friday to push their proposal. Ronn Jordan, a Norwood resident and PS 56 parent said they were not encouraged, but said Carey may have "left the door open a little bit if we can get the Board of Education to say they're willing to do some of this stuff."

But if the door was ever open, Carey seemed to be closing it again, when the Norwood News interviewed him by telephone on Tuesday.

"I'm not considering schools at all," Carey said, when asked if there was still room for discussion involving schools at the armory.

Carey did say, however, that EDC could possibly be helpful to the coalition in other ways. "If we can help them find room for schools then we would do that," he said.

But the basic difference of opinion between the coalition and EDC still holds.
"We do not think this is the right place for schools, and that is where we have a disagreement with this group," Carey said.

Dueling Proposals

RD Management/Basketball City
Developer: RD Management/Basketball City


Retail
* 249,000 square feet
* a mix of "big-box" stores (i.e. Home Depot) and smaller retailers
Recreational/Entertainment Space
* 166,500 square feet
* 12-screen movie theatre, Basketball courts, batting cages, rock climbing
Community facilities
* 36,800 square feet mainly in head house (portion of armory that faces Kingsbridge Road)
* performing arts and community theatre
* space for offices and educational programs
* boxing, karate studio
600 parking spaces

Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition/Pratt Institute Developer: Coalition would seek city's assistance in identifying developer for their plan

Public Schools

* 225,000 square feet
* 3 schools for a total of 1800 seats; one in head house, one constructed within drill shed and one abutting the building on East 195th Street
Recreational, cultural and community program space
* 80,000 square feet
* could include ice rink, community theater, athletic fields and green market
Retail stores
* 10,000 - 20,000 square feet

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