18, No. 21
Nov. 3 - 16, 2005
Alliance Formed to Push Armory
Progress Still Hinges on Home for Guard
By JORDAN MOSS
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
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
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
“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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