Vol. 18, No. 21 Nov. 3 - 16, 2005


Alliance Formed to Push Armory Project
Progress Still Hinges on Home for Guard


Charlie Shayne, the executive director of the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center, remembers touring the Kingsbridge Armory in 1986 or 1987 with the young district manager of Community Board 5 – a young fellow named Adolfo Carrión (now the borough president).

There was some talk back then of the National Guard vacating the facility, and people wanted to take a look and start imagining what could be.

Now, almost two decades later and 12 years after the Guard left the main armory buildings, all that’s really changed in terms of planning the landmark’s reincarnation is that there’s a new $30 million roof on the massive drill hall. What will go under it is anyone’s guess.

Shayne, who talks passionately about education and understands as well as anyone how chronic overcrowding has resulted in many more kids needing remedial help at his Center, is disappointed by the stark lack of progress. But he’s not embittered, as evidenced by his attendance, along with several of the Center’s staff and volunteers, at a lively community planning session at Lehman College on Oct. 22.

Sponsored by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, the event brought together a number of community institutions, organizations and community residents in the hopes of gaining more allies in the organization’s effort to get the city to start focusing on the armory’s redevelopment. Those in attendance included people from a number of churches, the Fordham Hill Cooperatives, the retail workers union (RWDSU), Walton High School, Bronx Community College, various merchant associations and several other groups. About 90 people attended. The meeting also marked the formation of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a coalition of local organizations.

After a panel discussion, participants broke up into several groups to brainstorm. They discussed, for example, what kind of open space, schools, stores and cultural programs should be included in the final plan, and marked up giant blueprints of the facility with magic markers.

The Coalition has partnered with the Richman Group, a large real estate developer, to draft a plan that includes a movie theater, recreation activities, community space and schools. A consensus seems to have developed among city officials and politicians that the educational component is imperative, but it is also the part of the plan that is preventing the city from issuing a request for proposals (RFP). Two National Guard units still remain in two rear brick buildings occupying the site where schools for 2,000 kids would go. Everyone who wants to see the armory redeveloped agrees the Guard needs to move, but no one has found them a place to go, nor is there much evidence that anyone is looking very hard. This, despite a summer tour of the armory by the governor and borough politicians (see Armory Clock on cover).

Ronn Jordan, a parent and education activist who is president of the Coalition’s board, said that the formation of KARA is designed to get the city focused on what needs to be done. “[We’re showing] that it’s not just the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition that believes in this proposal, that it’s the community itself,” he said.

The Economic Development Corporation, the city agency responsible for overseeing the facility’s redevelopment, won’t say anything publicly about its intentions until the Guard issue is resolved. When they finally do issue an RFP, the Coalition may find it faces some competitors.

The Related Companies, a large and well-known developer, which previously expressed interest in the project when the city first made noise about issuing an RFP a couple of years ago, said it hadn’t heard anything from the city but would consider submitting a proposal if an RFP was issued.

“We were interested once before in the project,” said Related executive Dean Vanderwarker. “We would definitely be interested again in any new … RFPs the city sponsored. But, as of yet, we’ve heard zero on the intentions of the city to reissue that and would obviously look forward to that if there were one.”

But while Jordan and other Coalition members hope that Richman’s proposal is selected, they say they would be satisfied if the main objectives of their plan – particularly the creation of new schools – showed up in another company’s proposal.

“At the end of the day, if there’s another developer that comes along and does that stuff,” that would be fine, Jordan said, emphasizing that KARA would still push for a community benefits agreement, so that local residents would have a say in how the project moves forward.

But before any developer makes a bid, the city and the state must find a new home for the Guard.

“I would like to see someone start working on moving the National Guard,” Shayne said. “I can’t believe that we cannot find a space for a small number of people like that vis a vis 2,000 school seats …”

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