Bkln. Planners Put Ideas on Drawing Board
By JORDAN MOSS
If, like many Bronxites, you're tired of trekking to Manhattan to sip cappuccino and browse a good bookstore, wait a couple of years and you might find them in a surprising part of the borough, nestled in the same landmark facility with new schools, a community center, and performance spaces.
Using ideas for reinventing the Kingsbridge Armory, generated in planning meetings over the summer with members of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED) has taken the neighborhood's greatest needs and put them to paper in the form of detailed architectural drawings (see illustration).
The shape of the plan is largely driven by the area's severe school overcrowding crisis, so it allows for two 800-seat elementary schools and one 800-seat middle school.
But the proposal also includes room for a sports complex (an idea championed several years ago by former Assemblyman Oliver Koppell), an underground theater, a park and green market, a community center with social services, restaurants and book stores, and a possible connection to the #4 subway line.
PICCED exists to provide this type of technical assistance to community organizations with big ideas but little money. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit gets a $30,000 grant each year from the New York State Council on the Arts to help groups that approach them give form to their ideas for creating community spaces.
Here in the Bronx, PICCED worked with community members to transform a former Hunts Point bagel factory into a cultural center and business development incubator, now known as The Point.
In Brooklyn, PICCED worked with the borough president's office and a task force to make a Park Slope armory into a community center, but plans ran aground amidst a battle over whether or not to keep the women's shelter that existed in part of the facility.
Coincidentally, the Kingsbridge Armory is home to a women's shelter, but thus far everyone is on the same page about keeping it right where it is.
"It's so different from what we experienced in Park Slope," said Joan Byron, PICCED's architectural director. "There's much less of a sense of solidarity between that community and the shelter than there is [at the Kingsbridge Armory]. The folks in the northwest Bronx appreciate all that the [shelter] staff has done to preserve" the building.
Also responsible for dooming the Park Slope project was a lack of people power, Byron said.
"It doesn't have anywhere near the grassroots support that Kingsbridge does," she said, referring to the participation of parents and other residents in the initial planning process.
Byron and virtually everyone involved readily admit that the drawings are only the beginning of a very long process of garnering the cash to do a feasibility study and amassing the political backing to raise tens of millions of dollars to implement their plan.
"If the financing was there, it would probably take two or three years," Byron said, adding that the money is likely to come in increments. "Obviously, the first order of business is to fix the roof and stabilize the building -- get some uses there on an improvised basis." The roof over the armory's drill floor is deteriorating rapidly, leaving massive puddles below.
Byron and community residents are prepared, however, for a long haul. At one of the planning sessions over the summer, one participant said, "This building is like a baby we're having together."
Byron responded, "And we're going to be pregnant for a long time."
Drawing by Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development
Architects envision a multi-use educational and social facility in the now-derelict Kingsbridge Armory.
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