|Vol. 13, No. 6
||March 22 - April
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
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
(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
"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
"We do not think this is the right place for schools, and that
is where we have a disagreement with this group," Carey said.
RD Management/Basketball City
Developer: RD Management/Basketball City
* 249,000 square feet
* a mix of "big-box" stores (i.e. Home Depot) and smaller retailers
* 166,500 square feet
* 12-screen movie theatre, Basketball courts, batting cages, rock climbing
* 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
* 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
* 10,000 - 20,000 square feet
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