Vol. 19,  No.  21 Nov. 2 - Nov. 15,  2006


Sizing Up Competition at the Armory


The race to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory is officially on.

Close to a hundred people showed up to an informational meeting put on by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Armory. The morning meeting included an overview of the request for proposals (RFP), an extended tour through the Armory’s labyrinth of rooms and tunnels, and ended with a brief question-and-answer session.

In addition to a handful of big-name developers – each of whom brought a posse of staffers, architects, environmental experts and traffic engineers – there were a few smaller groups hoping to carve out some space for their operations.

Benyamin Bridges is looking for a permanent home for his nomadic School for Entrepreneurial Skills. Dr. Fernando Cabrera, the senior pastor of the New Life Outreach International Church, located just north of the Armory, said he’s looking to place some of his programs in the massive building.

“Everyone’s looking,” explained a smartly dressed woman, who works for a developer but declined to say which one.

On the tour, men and women, some in sharp Italian suits with tennis shoes, others in jeans and boots, took pictures with digital cameras, marveled at the sheer amount of space and raved about the elaborate hallways and staircases.

Dean Vanderwarker of the Related Companies, which is redeveloping the Bronx Terminal Market, another EDC project, said he was “very serious” about competing for the Armory project.

“This is a unique building,” Vanderwarker said while checking out one of the Armory’s underground shooting ranges. “It’s something entirely different than what we typically do.”

Vanderwarker said he wasn’t really surprised by anything in the RFP. “The city always asks for a lot in an RFP and this was no different,” he said.

Evan Blem, who works for an historic preservation company called Demolition Depot, says he would love to take over the project, but doesn’t see it happening.

“I don’t wear a suit like most of these guys,” Blem said, dressed in khakis and a loose-fitting yellow shirt. “But I can connect to the community better than they can.”

Though he was attending the meeting, Blem was very pessimistic about the RFP selection process, saying the EDC had probably already chosen a developer and was just going through the motions because the agency has to make it look good.

Janel Patterson, the EDC spokesperson, adamantly denied that the EDC has already chosen a developer.

“We’re very committed to the RFP process,” Patterson said. “We put a lot of effort into crafting the RFP with input from the community and look forward to a competitive process.”

(Would-be developers must submit their proposals to the EDC by Dec. 14.)

While climbing up some stairs into a darkened room, another woman, who also wouldn’t give her name, talked about how the competition for the Armory project would be intense given the limited space for development opportunities in the Bronx. “The Bronx is hot,” she said.

During the question-and-answer period, there was mostly silence. Someone from the Atlantic Group, which presented an Armory vision to the community in May in an attempt to avoid an RFP, asked if the two schools (which will replace the Armory annex buildings) could be constructed somewhere besides the Armory’s northern side. The short answer was “no,” but the long answer was that the EDC would defer to the School Construction Authority for all school building-related questions.

That was about the extent of the excitement for the day, which ended with the various factions breaking away to discuss strategy and timetables.

Outside the Armory, Peter Fine of the Atlantic Group, and his cohorts, were approached by a reporter who asked him what he thought about the RFP and the selection process. “I’m more interested in what you think,” Fine said.

One of his staffers, Michael Grasso, seemed to think the whole RFP process would be a long, drawn out affair.

“By the time this thing gets done, you’ll be a senior writer for the New York Times,” he told the community reporter as he climbed into the back seat of a black SUV.

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