Vol. 19,  No.  7 Apr. 6 - 19 , 2006


Some Progress on Stumbling Blocks At Armory Forum


A packed community meeting on the Kingsbridge Armory last month has spurred movement among city and state leaders on the long stalled project.

Officials in the mayor’s office and the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC) have shown new signs of engagement in the project, and a potential developer has identified a possible site to house the two National Guard units based in the landmark’s annex. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, the mayor’s development czar, is slated to tour the building soon, and Governor Pataki has promised to designate a staff liaison for the project, according to Assemblyman Jose Rivera.

“We’re not going to back off on this,” said Rivera, in an interview last week. “Something has to give.”

The new developments, which are the first tangible ones since the governor visited the armory last summer, arose out of the March 22 forum. The meeting, which was organized by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, drew nearly 200 Bronx residents, merchants, union members and church leaders. Felix Ciampa, a senior EDC staffer, and Matthew Wambua, from the Mayor’s Office of the Empowerment Zone, were in attendance, as were Rivera and a representative from the Richman Group, a city developer advancing a proposal for the armory.

Attendees rallied behind seven specific goals for a future development, including constructing four small schools, providing a mix of retail, entertainment and recreational space, and creating local jobs. Twelve community organizations and churches, along with Rivera and the Richman Group, endorsed the resolution and many of them have joined to form the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance.

Father Joe Jerome, the pastor at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, which hosted the meeting, said all the goals are important. “We know there is inadequate space for schools and recreation,” he said.

Fazila Deen, a nearby merchant, thinks the agreement will bring needed amenities and more foot traffic to the area. “It would be good for the business people,” said Deen, an owner of J & F Auto Parts on Jerome Avenue.

The Richman Group’s proposal, which the Coalition collaborated on, includes these amenities. They are now looking to ensure they will be met regardless of the developer, as the city has said that it will open up the project to a bidding process. The Richman Group is the only developer known to be openly interested in the project, but that could change when a request for proposals (RFP) emerges.

Ronn Jordan, the Coalition’s president, said city officials seemed positive about the principles, and, more importantly, the sense of unity behind them. “They had heard rumors that not all the elected officials were on board with it,” said Jordan, who met with Ciampa, Wambua and Rivera to further discuss matters the next day. “They see that this project has come a long way.”

But EDC is still sounding a note of caution. “While we are impressed and appreciative of the enthusiasm and support shown by the attendees of last weeks’ meeting … we also need to work with other stakeholders,” including the borough president, local City Council members and the community board, said the agency in a statement.

The EDC does seem supportive of the Coalition’s general development goals. “[The proposal should] meet as many of the criteria of the residents, local businesses and alliances and elected officials as possible,” said the statement.

Advocates hope that mix doesn’t include a police academy, which has been among the ideas the city has been considering. That concept is locally unpopular, and reportedly doesn’t have the police commissioner’s support. “I think they are revaluating that suggestion,” Rivera said.

There also seems to be progress in finding another home for the armory’s two National units, which remain in the building’s annex on West 195th Street. The Richman Group is in the initial stages of exploring an alternative Bronx site for the Guard. The company came upon the undisclosed location with help from Peter Fine, a big city developer allied with Rivera.

“We’re trying our best to be proactive,” said Christopher Cirillo, Richman’s vice president. The EDC has repeatedly said that the state must approve a site for the units before moving forward with an RFP. They also want the state to identify funds for the “acquisition, development and maintenance of the new site,” the statement said.

The governor and the city have made little visible progress in these areas. While meeting together, city officials asked Rivera to help get the state to put more energy and money behind the process. Rivera called Pataki and got him to agree to assign a close staff member to liaison on the project. “I told the governor we need some leadership here,” Rivera said.

At press time, Jordan said he was nailing down a date for Doctoroff’s armory tour. Mayor Bloomberg has yet to see the massive complex himself.

Armory advocates think the project is a natural for an administration drawn to big development projects, including controversial ones like Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Terminal Market. “This is the only project that no one is fighting over,” Jordan said. “Not doing it would be foolish.”

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