Vol. 16, No.19  Sept. 25 - Oct. 8, 2003


Politicians to Meet On Armory Soon


Bronx elected officials are gearing up to put their stamp on the long-awaited project to develop the Kingsbridge Armory. 

A meeting among city and elected officials that is not public is scheduled for Sept. 29, according to Janel Patterson, a spokeswoman for the city's Economic Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the development process. But at press time on Sept. 23, she said she didn't know anything else about the meeting. Carrion's office also couldn't provide details. 

After more than a decade of inaction, elected officials and community leaders are 
champing at the bit to get the project moving. 

"More than anything, it's time to move forward on this aggressively," said Bronx 
Borough President Adolfo Carrion in a phone interview with the Norwood News.

EDC announced earlier this month that it will issue an RFP (request for proposals) for developers this fall. 

But Patterson told the News earlier this month that they will first solicit ideas from key stakeholders --  including politicians and community groups -- - before drafting the RFP.

No meetings with community groups have yet been scheduled. Asked if they will be, Patterson said, "We will be forthcoming with information when it's available, yes." 

With a decade to think about it, since the armory was ceded to the city by the National Guard in 1994, most community leaders now have a good idea of what they want to see created within the landmark facility. 

"Everyone basically agrees on the elements," Carrion said. "It should include school space for public schools, some retail, some recreation and entertainment, and certainly sports facilities."

Members of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition have been 
advocating a similar mix for years now. "Our proposal was seen as a pipe dream when we started," said Ronn Jordan, a local resident, about the coalition's six-year-old plan. "Now we've jumped through all the hoops, we have our own developer now, and they want to start this whole process over again. I guess that's fair government."

Earlier this year, the Coalition partnered with the Richman Group, a commercial real estate developer. The coalition's armory task force met with Carrion and his staff last month to present the revised version. "He was a lot more receptive to it now," Jordan said. 

Carrion would not say whether he preferred the Coalition's plan or any of the other contenders. "There are good proposals out there . . . but I have no prejudices," he said. "During a competitive process like this, you'll get some of the best ideas coming through to the surface." 

Basketball City, a developer of large-scale sports and entertainment facilities, was the leading competitor at the end of the Giuliani administration and through this summer, until EDC reversed course. That plan mostly includes retail stores and sports facilities.

While Carrion has long advocated for making the armory an economic engine for the Bronx, his strong support of public schools is relatively new. Carrion pointed to funding from the Department of Education and Qualified Zone Academy Bonds --  low-interest bonds used to renovate old buildings for classrooms --  as ways to possibly finance school construction. 

"Businesses like movie houses we know can self-finance, because they're going after a retail market," he said. "The way that you ensure success is by financing the elements with different funding streams."

Last July, the EDC emphasized the importance of putting self-sustaining elements into the armory, especially given its size. But Carrion, a former urban planner, seemed confident that a mixed-use proposal --  including schools --  was feasible 

"There is a fear among all developers to touch a massive project like this," he said. "At this point, the money for schools is a question to pose to the Department of Education.  But I think we can probably get it. The other pieces can come together in the same way."

Carrion was optimistic that the RFP will finally result in progress at the armory.

Repeated calls to the office of Council Member Maria Baez, whose district includes the armory, were not returned. The News was also not able to speak to Congressman Jose Serrano by press time.

Carrion said he had a good relationship with EDC, and was optimistic about the agency's commitment to moving the project forward -- especially after the recent replacement of the structure's mammoth roof. "Look, the city has put in close to $30 million in securing the site," he said. "It's a tremendous opportunity . . . to negotiate through all the good and bad noise, and come out with a sustainable project for many generations to come."

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