PUBLISHED BY MOSHOLU PRESERVATION CORPORATION

Vol. 18, No. 14 July 14 - 27, 2005



     
 

Pataki Tours Armory
Pols Hope He’ll Help Move Guard Units

By HEATHER HADDON

Governor Pataki made his first visit to the Kingsbridge Armory last week, touring the facility with Bronx officials who are eager to advance the stalled project. Local leaders and activists were buoyed by the event, but Pataki failed to offer specific solutions to the hurdles that remain.

The key stumbling block to the armory’s redevelopment, as it has been for a year, is finding a suitable location for the two National Guard companies stationed in the building’s annex on West 195th Street, where new schools are likely to take root. While the state is willing to move the units, someone must first identify at least a 30,000-square-foot space for them in the Bronx.

“The Bronx has played a critical role in protecting US security,” said Pataki during a press conference after the tour. “[The companies] are not going to leave here without a new space.”

Pataki said no one has yet found an alternative location, but Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who orchestrated the visit, indicated that he is exploring a possibility in Soundview. “I’m pushing for this,” Rivera said.

But that site seems problematic. Formerly a manufacturing plant owned by Loral Electronics, a defense contractor, the land may need an extensive environmental cleanup to remove toxins. The site has already surfaced in the mayoral campaign as candidate Fernando Ferrer lambasted the Bloomberg administration for opening a school on a portion of the site. Rivera said that Peter Fine, a major developer he is close to, has submitted a bid on the property.

It’s unclear who is responsible for finding the Guard a new home. Pataki said the city, specifically the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), promised to find a spot back in 1996, but never followed through. EDC has repeatedly said over the last year that there are no new developments concerning the armory. Pataki offered assurances that the mayor is well aware of the armory project and he added that all the officials present would work together to address the relocation issue.

Local officials expressed impatience. “It’s a very unique opportunity and I don’t think we can wait anymore,” said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión to Pataki as they toured the annex. “Elected officials are all standing together on this.”

Bronx leaders, along with the School Construction Authority (SCA), came to a consensus last year to build schools on the site of the armory’s annex. Most borough officials now support the development plan formulated by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which includes 2,000 school seats, recreational facilities, a theater, parking, and commercial spaces like a bookstore.

At Rivera’s prompting, Ronn Jordan, the Coalition’s president, presented Pataki with the group’s plan, although the state may have little to do with the specifics of the redevelopment plan. “I see an end in sight,” said Jordan, who accompanied officials to a business luncheon with Pataki after the event. “The governor seemed really positive about this.”

During the tour, Pataki expressed concerns about coming up with enough funding for the massive project. The last estimate to rehab the armory was $110 million, not including work on the annex. Structural issues have since worsened, with flooding in the subterranean floors and damage to the building’s foundation. “The cost could be very high,” Pataki said.

In the Coalition’s plan, much of the development costs are underwritten. The SCA has pledged to take out a long-term lease for the annex schools, acting as a financial anchor for the project. The city has allocated billions for new school construction, but education officials have failed to identify local sites.

The Richman Group, a private real estate developer, agreed in 2003 to pursue the Coalition’s plan for the armory. They have since identified potential financial backers, and if their proposal were selected, the company would sink roughly $200 million into the project, according to Jordan. “They think it is financially viable,” he said.

Pataki publicly pledged to continue working with local officials on the armory. At lunch, he agreed to discuss the project with the mayor, and City Council members said they would do the same with EDC, according to Jordan.

Rivera said he brought up the armory while meeting with EDC two weeks ago. “We’ve been supportive on the Jets and Yankee stadiums,” he said. “We need city government to come through here.”


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