Armory Progress May Hinge on Military
By HEATHER HADDON
City officials are in negotiations with the state to obtain control of the Kingsbridge Armory's annex, a linchpin for moving forward with a design that could include schools in the structure's redevelopment.
"We're pushing this forward," said Council Member Joel Rivera about the discussions, which began last month. "It's about time we make it [the armory] our number one priority."
The issue at hand is whether the state Division of Military and Naval Affairs will relinquish control over the 50,000 square foot annex, the headquarters for a National Guard field artillery unit currently stationed in Iraq. The 300 members also use the space, located on West 195th Street between Jerome and Reservoir avenues, for monthly drills.
While the military had been slow to discuss the matter publicly, Michael Friess, a facilities director for the agency, agreed to attend a recent hearing on the armory. Friess seemed willing to give up the annex if another suitable location for the unit could be found in the borough. The state is now examining the possibility of a swap with the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which oversees the armory's development.
"We are looking to EDC to provide alternative [locations] to look at, and we are certainly open to all of them," said Scott Sandman, a Military and Naval Affairs spokesperson.
Janel Patterson, an EDC spokesperson, confirmed that her agency is in talks with the state. "We're assessing their needs," Patterson said.
An existing army facility just north of Bronx Community College (BCC) could be a possible solution. While a sign outside states it is the 77th Patterson Army Reserve Center, the compound is clearly abandoned. Tall weeds and a locked fence surround the structure, and garbage collects around the perimeter. The eyesore mars BCC's pristinely landscaped entrance, which it faces.
With a four-vehicle garage, spacious parking lot, and several wings, the compound has potential. "It's a big facility," Rivera said. "Since they [the military] already own it, we wouldn't have to go through anything to move the entire unit there."
While the military might own the compound now, BCC has been in negotiations with the state for over a year to acquire the facility, according to Bryant Mason, a BCC spokesperson.
Mason did not know exactly where those discussions stand and how they might impact the possible swap. Sandman was not aware of the specific location.
Wherever the military ends ups, advocates gained a definite victory recently when the Department of Education (DOE) threw its support behind building schools in the armory's annex. The DOE had long contested that the armory wasn't physically suitable for classrooms because it lacks light and ventilation.
Kathleen Grimm, a deputy chancellor, discussed the matter in a meeting last month with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which is advancing a development proposal that includes schools, businesses and recreation facilities. "The bottom line is they seem very interested in putting schools on the outside," said Stephen Kaplan, a Coalition member.
Because the DOE's ambitious capital plan looks to build 11 schools locally, the armory is a valuable commodity in a crowded area. "We've made it clear there's no other space [locally]," Kaplan said.
The Bloomberg administration's apparent support for schools in the armory is a complete reversal from the Giuliani administration's plan to turn the facility into a sports complex without any schools. Political support for schools solidified last October when Bronx officials met with the EDC about drafting a request for proposals (RFP), which has still not been issued.
But things can't move forward unless the military agrees to move. "If they don't, the whole thing comes to a grinding halt," Kaplan said.
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