What's Next For Armory?
By HANNAN ADELY
Local parents, education activists and politicians hope long-stalled proposals for schools in the Kingsbridge Armory will take on new life under the new administration.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plans to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a massive shopping and recreation center never took off. But so far, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not taken a position on the issue, and the massive armory on Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge Road remains vacant.
School supporters view the change in administration as a clean slate since Giuliani was dead set against including schools in any redevelopment of the landmark facility. "So far, no proposal was committed to [by Bloomberg]," said Councilman Joel Rivera who represents the district adjacent to the armory but wields considerable influence as the Council's new majority leader. "That's a very good sign. Before it was only Giuliani's proposal that was being looked at. We find this is a great opportunity to argue our points and get feedback."
Under Giuliani's proposal, the armory would have included a multiplex movie theater and commercial space to accommodate major retail outlets. There would also be recreational space featuring amenities like soccer fields, batting cages, basketball courts, and a jogging track.
But so far, the project has generated little interest. "The city has been very quiet about their plan," said Joan Byron, architectural director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, which helped the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition develop an architectural plan that includes schools. "What we all suspect is that they've been dead in the water for a while as far as signing up any tenants."
Officials of Basketball City, a subsidiary of the developer that was the city's choice to redevelop the armory, did not return calls seeking comment.
Janel Patterson, of the Economic Development Corporation, the city agency overseeing the armory renovation, said Giuliani's plan is under review by the administration. EDC is looking at a number of plans, Patterson said, but the agency seems to favor the kind of plan put forth under Giuliani. "We expect the final development would be along the lines of what's been previously announced," she said.
Even with Giuliani out of office, school supporters must contend with a budget crisis that has the city cutting school projects, rather than creating them. On top of that, there are no new schools in the Board of Education's (BOE) budget for the Bronx all the way through 2005. Activists want the city to explore a host of financial options to renovate the armory for schools - a project, they say, the city cannot ignore in a space-starved school district.
Exploring Financial Options
The Coalition wants the city to consider using Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs), interest-free bonds that are available specifically to fix up old buildings for education use and for school modernization.
The Coalition's proposal for the armory includes three 600-seat schools, an athletic complex, a theater, and a community center with social services, restaurants and shops. Their plan was one of several school proposals that have been floated since the National Guard vacated the mammoth structure in 1993.
Last year, the Board of Education used $31.4 million of the $120 million in QZABs available to the city for technology improvements in city schools, said spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
But the Board is not currently considering using these funds for the armory, Ortiz said. Still, now that Giuliani is gone and schools have a fighting chance to be included in the final proposal, the Coalition wants to reopen the debate over using QZABs at the armory.
Olympic Site at Armory
But the games are10 years away, and New York is competing with many other cities to host the event. "No city is selected to be considered for the bid for another year," Byron said. "In the best case, we could get shot down in a year. In the worst case, we would be the proposed city and it would be a few years before we knew whether anything would happen. Byron was also critical of making the Olympics the focal point of a redevelopment project rather than the schools. "How do you justify spending millions on Olympic facilities when schools in the area are deteriorating?" she said.
But Koppell believes the facilities will benefit the community-at-large. In a letter to Bloomberg, Koppell wrote, "Sports facilities could not only be made available for high class Olympic training but also for sports programs at neighborhood schools and colleges."
Councilman Rivera said the city could save millions by bringing back the commuter tax or reviving the stock transfer tax, where each share purchase would be taxed a half-penny. These measures could net millions for new schools, he said.
Borough President Adolfo Carrion considers the armory a top priority and will appoint a task force next month to study armory proposals. "He's open to suggestions," said spokeswoman Arlene Mukoko. "That's the reason why he is creating a task force with many different voices."
Also, Community Board 7 ranked reconstruction and renovation of the Kingsbridge Armory as its number one capital budget priority. The board envisions a project that includes an art facility, sports complex, and schools.
Wherever the money comes from, activists say schools are desperately needed in District 10, and the armory is prime real estate in a district with virtually no large, empty buildings.
The good news is that activists are confident the armory will stay on the city's radar screen now that it has invested $30 million to fix the roof over the drill hall, a project that is almost complete.
The city's capital budget includes an additional $29 million for the complete renovation of the armory, according to Office of Management and Budget spokesman Ed Kausch. That money is earmarked for work in the current fiscal year and next.
Supporters of a school component to the renovation take solace in the probability that the city's budget woes won't last too long.
"If you're thinking of the capital budget for this year, it'll be tough," Byron said. "But if you're thinking next year or the year after that for the project, or if you're looking at other resources as part of the funding, then why not?"
Ed. note: To read more articles published by the Norwood News on the armory over the last three years, click on "Ongoing Story."
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