Vol. 16, No.14  July  3 - 16, 2003


Decision on Armory Expected 'Mid-Summer'


After months of inactivity, plans for developing the Kingsbridge Armory appear to be getting the city's attention again. The Economic Development Corporation (EDC), which oversees big development projects for the city, is expected to announce a decision on the armory by mid-summer, according to officials. 

"The Bloomberg administration is aware of how important this project is to the community, and that the community wants to see movement on it," said Janel Patterson, an EDC spokesperson. "We hope to have a decision by mid-summer after we have met with and received input from all stakeholders." 

Previous plans are still being considered, according to Patterson. "We are currently examining our options and all proposals are on the table," she said.

But according to sources familiar with the project, one proposal in particular is leading the pack. Originally submitted by RD Management, a shopping mall developer, the armory's programs would be operated by its subsidiary, Basketball City. The company manages large-scale sports and entertainment facilities, one located just north of Chelsea Piers on Manhattan's north side. While RD, the favorite of the Giuliani administration, nearly sealed the deal for the armory in 2000, the company's star faded when the mayor left office.

Bruce Radler, part owner of Basketball City, did not elaborate on the status of their proposal. "We are still talking to the city," he said. "They're the ones who control the property."

The original RD plan included an entertainment space anchored by a multiplex movie theater, retail stores, recreational space, areas for community facilities and a park. Through their Jump Start program, Basketball City donates court time to local schools lacking gym space. But the actual space designated for the community, at 36,800 square feet, is only 8 percent of the massive structure.

The need for a more community-focused armory, one that features schools to help alleviate the area's overcrowded classrooms, has been a consistent issue with local groups. The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has advocated its own plan for the armory -- which includes 2,000 school seats along with space for shops, retail and community space -- for the past five years. And School District 10 proposed putting schools in the armory as far back as 1993, when the National Guard largely abandoned the landmark facility. 

The Coalition's plan, originally conceived of with the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, was recently strengthened by the addition of a national developer, the Richman Group. The 25-year-old real estate company -- whose former president, Bill Traylor, now works for the city's housing agency -- took on the proposal as financially feasible and locally appropriate.

While things were looking good for the Richman Group, that momentum appears to have slowed. No progress has been made since the group met with Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff's staff last year, and the School Construction Authority and EDC in March. "We haven't heard much," said Ronn Jordan, a Coalition member and local resident.

EDC's cold shoulder might have to do with the percentage of the plan reserved for 
community use. "Whatever is going to be there, it has to be self-sustaining," Patterson said. "It has to generate enough revenue to pay for its operations. The heating costs are quite high because the facility is so huge. You can't just put community facilities there."

But sources believe that RD has made more concessions to the community in its latest proposal, increasing community-oriented space to 100,000-square-feet. RD has reportedly joined forces with other developers, forming an organization called the Delta Group, to give their proposal more muscle.

While Coalition members are clearly concerned about the current developments, they are continuing to push their proposal as the best option for the Bronx. "The community is not going to be able to afford the fees they charge at a place like Chelsea piers," Jordan said. 

The Coalition also believes that the public uses in its proposal can be self-sustaining, considering that public schools come with a steady stream of public funds. Activists with the group have also suggested that a federal bond program to renovate old buildings for educational use - known as Qualified Zone Academy Bonds - could be put to good use at the armory. 

"We got to get these schools built," Jordan said.

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