Vol. 19,  No.  19 Oct. 5 - Oct. 18,  2006


Armory RFP Released at Long Last


New York City finally delivered on its promise to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of Kingsbridge Armory last week. The milestone marks the beginning of the end of a 12-year community crusade to transform the vacant 575,000 square foot former military complex into a valuable community resource.

The city inherited the vacant landmark from the state in 1994 when the National Guard left the main Armory facility. The ensuing years were marked by missed deadlines, discarded proposals and political inertia.

The goal of Armory RFP, released on Sept. 26, “is to transform the Armory into a unique mixed-use facility that will anchor the local community and create a unique destination to attract visitors from throughout the city and region,” according to a statement by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the city agency that drafted the RFP and is responsible for the Armory project.

Produced with significant input from the Armory Task Force, a loose group of elected officials, city agencies and community representatives, the RFP provides the guidelines for a mostly commercial complex that will include retail, entertainment and recreational uses. It also calls for some community space and two new public schools.

The RFP envisions the new Armory as a strong and sustainable economic development vehicle that won’t muscle out existing area businesses. The RFP also implores developers wishing to develop the Armory — reportedly the largest armory in the world — to create well-paying jobs for local residents and incorporate “green,” or environmentally friendly, design plans.

“In addition to serving as an economic catalyst for the surrounding community, the redeveloped Kingsbridge Armory will serve as a model for the adaptive re-use of historic buildings, especially armories, throughout the country,” said EDC Interim President Joshua J. Sirefam, in a statement.

Local activists are hailing the Armory RFP as an historic collaboration between a city agency and community stakeholders. Never before, activists say, has the EDC been as responsive to input from the community. And for the first time ever, the city has released an RFP that includes language calling for the creation of “living wage” jobs, which is defined by the city in 2006 as $10 an hour, plus $1.50 an hour in benefits.

An EDC spokesperson called the language “unique” to this particular RFP.

However, like most of the RFP language, the living wage provision is merely a strong suggestion to potential developers.

“NYEDC will view favorably development plans that maximize the number of jobs that meet the city’s living wage and health benefits standards,” the RFP states.

The Bronx has the highest unemployment rate of the five boroughs and one of the highest of any county in the United States.

Local elected officials, union representatives and community leaders expressed their pleasure over the long-in-coming release of the RFP, but warned that there is still much work to be done.

“It’s long overdue that this space be productively employed,” said Council Member Oliver Koppell, adding that he would have liked to have seen more of an emphasis on community space, a sentiment echoed by other community leaders. Community space is not mandated by the EDC, but the RFP states, “provision of space for various community uses is strongly encouraged.”

Jeff Eichler, an organizer for the Retailers, Wholesale and Department Stores Union, said he was thrilled with the unprecedented living wage language.

“Wage standards is a big step forward,” Eichler said. “Now we’re working to go beyond that and make sure [the living wage language] becomes a reality.

“The RFP lays the groundwork,” Eichler added. “It’s a launching pad.”

Ronn Jordan, the president of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which has been pushing a community vision of the Armory since 1998, also stressed the jobs issue. “I hope that the developers will address the community’s needs for living wage jobs,” he said.

Because of overcrowding problems in local schools, the Coalition pushed for the creation of four small schools and 2,000 student seats. The RFP calls for two schools and only 1,000 seats.

“We have a high population there,” said Assemblyman Jose Rivera, who worked closely with the Coalition and was instrumental in pushing the Armory project on both the city and state level. “Whether we get 2,000 [seats] in there or not, we’re going to push for it. It’s not over until it’s over.”

Community Board 7 Chair Greg Faulkner, who, along with Jordan served on the Armory Task Force, said he, too, was disappointed with the lack of community space outlined in the RFP. On the other hand, he said the lack of hard requirements allowed developers to be creative when drafting their proposals.

“If you narrow it down too much, it kind of locks things down,” Faulkner said. “[The RFP] gives developers a chance to outperform what the city proposes.”

Faulkner, Rivera, his son, City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera, and a hefty union contingent showed up at a Saturday rally organized by the Coalition on the Armory’s massive drill floor to celebrate the RFP and to emphasize the need to keep the pressure on the city and potential developers.

For the moment, however, the RFP means hope in a community that had reason to despair as residents toiled away putting their dreams on paper but with little attention paid by City Hall.

Wendoly Marte, an 18-year-old youth activist and college student who lives just blocks from the facility and has long participated in the Coalition’s Armory Committee, hopes she won’t have to take the train to Manhattan just to buy a book once the Armory is redeveloped.

“We need a lot of things in this area,” Marte said. “I love to read, but there’s no bookstores here.”

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