Vol. 11, No. 16 Aug. 27 - Sept. 9, 1998


Hard Word Begins to Reinvent Landmrk


Residents from communities surrounding the Kingsbridge Armory have begun the slow, hard work of developing a rehabilitation plan for the decaying landmark.

In two summer sessions, members of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and other residents put forward their hopes and dreams for the vacant facility.

While schools top the list of uses proposed for the armory by participants, other priorities include: sports facilities, social service programs like parenting classes and job training; cultural facilities, and limited commercial use. In the spirit of a true brainstorming session, a bookstore and Krispy Kreme doughnut shop made their way to the newsprint papering the wall of the St. James Church community room. Even the tongue-in-cheek suggestion of a 99-cent store was dutifully transcribed by coalition organizer Clay Smith.

Architect Joan Byron of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED) is working with the group to develop a re-use proposal and feasibility study for the armory, which will include a description of how the armory would be restored and adapted for new uses, financial analyses that describe how renovations and long-term operations can be sustained, strategies for securing the necessary regulatory approvals and funding commitments, and a description of how the armory will be owned, governed and operated.

Byron sums up the ambitious task as: "Here's what the community desires for this building and here's the proof that it can be done."

For now, the city is in control of the facility and has let it deteriorate such that the gigantic wood roof over the drill hall is falling plank by plank onto the puddle-covered floor. Outside, massive cracks mar its facade. Inside the head house, the section that faces Kingsbridge Road, there are many rooms -- some structurally intact, others badly in need of plastering -- that resemble classrooms, raising the eyebrows of parents. But Byron estimated that in total there is only space for about 300 kids in the 20 or so rooms available. A better use for that space would somehow be incorporating it with a new structure in the drill hall section, she suggested.

Members of the coalition have met with school district officials to discuss possibilities for including new schools in the plan. Bruce Irushalmi, the district's director of special projects, said he supports the group's goals, but pointed to the current lack of government interest in rehabilitating the facility. "In order for it to sustain itself as a landmark, someone is going to have to make a commitment to it," Irushalmi said.

While private investors are likely to float their own plans, Byron says using the armory for commercial purposes will require the same public subsidies that a more community-oriented plan would. With a Pratt/Coalition plan in place as a standard, commercial interests "would have to prove they're creating as great a benefit to the community as what we propose," Byron said.

The biggest obstacles, almost everyone involved agrees, to implementing a plan for the armory, are money and politics.

The Giuliani administration seems to be playing a shell game with $30 million previously designated for the armory, now reportedly in a more general pool of facilities funds. In June, the borough's City Council delegation met with the mayor's staff to discuss getting the funds reassigned to the armory, according to Councilman Adolfo Carrión. However, those negotiations appear to be lost amidst the larger, ongoing budget battle between the mayor and Council. Even if the councilmembers succeed, though, the money chase will require much more than securing the $30 million -- a sum that will do little more than fix the armory's roof.

With a mind towards generating the kind of public support that will be necessary to elevate the issue to the top of the political agenda, the coalition is planning a rally for October 24 at the armory, just prior to the November elections. For more information about the rally, call the coalition at 365-4261 or 584-0515.

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