By HEATHER HADDON
Ten years after former District 10 Superintendent John Reehill first floated a pie-in-the- sky proposal to build schools at the vacant Kingsbridge Armory, Bronx politicians and city officials finally agree.
Local elected officials sat down with members of the Bloomberg administration last Monday to discuss the details of a Request for Proposals (RFP) the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) plans to issue this fall. According to two elected officials who attended the meeting, the inclusion of public schools in the development mix seemed to have broad support.
The two-hour long meeting, held at the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (BOEDC), was closed to the public. About 30 officials were present, according to Council Member Maria Baez, whose District 14 includes the armory.
The Bronx officials in attendance included Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Assemblymen Jose Rivera and Luis Diaz, State Senator Efrain Gonzalez, Community Board 7 Chair Nora Feury and District Manager Rita Kessler, BOEDC president Ray Salaberrios, and Baez. City officials included EDC President Andrew Alper and members of his staff, along with representatives from Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff's office and the School Construction Authority (SCA).
"We were all in synch about doing the educational component," Gonzalez said. "Public schools belong in a public facility."
Baez said there was wide agreement about the need for schools. "We have a real problem with overcrowding in the district," she said. "Education is definitely important to all of us . . . and there was a consensus when it came to the education piece of it. I was really surprised."
The SCA presented one caveat to the schools component. "The School Construction Authority did a study that found that schools being built in the armory wouldn't be good for children because of the air quality," Baez said. But officials discussed building a portion of the schools facing the exterior or on the outside of the building.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which first drafted a proposal several years ago that included schools inside the armory's massive drill floor and in the head house that faces Kingsbridge Road, has altered the location of the school facilities in their proposal, which was developed in partnership with The Richman Group of New York, a real estate developer. "We moved the schools out of the armory to 195th Street," said Ronn Jordan, a Coalition member. "They're 40 to 60 feet from the armory building." The Coalition's proposal has space for roughly 2,000 school seats. Inside the armory, the proposal calls for some retail space, a multiplex cinema and food court, and athletic fields accessible to the students.
Another proposal by Basketball City, which was favored by EDC during the Giuliani administration, featured sports facilities and retail stores but no school space. Rushing into that proposal was a mistake on EDC's part, says Gonzalez. "Picking the developer the way they were picking them before was not positive," he said. "I don't think they [EDC] would do it that way again. We should all be on the same page."
Officials also talked about possible entertainment venues, sports facilities and stores for the armory, according to Gonzalez. "The retail can't displace the mom-and-pop [stores] that are all already there," he said. "Everyone was in agreement about that."
The conversation did not address possible funding streams for the massive project. "There are millions of additional dollars needed" beyond the $30 million already invested to secure the structure's roof, Baez said. "But that was left up in the air."
Gonzalez was optimistic about funding. "When people actually want to do something, the money always appears," he said. "It's the beginning of a process. But we're very interested in making things happen."
EDC officials indicated that they will meet with the elected officials again, but did not specify a time. Baez and Gonzalez were not certain if a public meeting would be held to discuss community ideas for the armory, but a spokesperson for Carrin told the Norwood News that a public meeting would be held in October.
Both Baez and Gonzalez felt that the meeting was productive. "They did a lot of note taking," Gonzalez said. "I didn't get a sense they [EDC] had any set agenda. They were very forthcoming."
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