Editor’s note: This article appears is in the latest print edition of the Norwood News, which you can find now at locations throughout the northwest Bronx.
Two years after the City Council killed a plan to turn the long-vacant Kingsbridge Armory into a giant shopping mall, the city is once again seeking development proposals for the 600,000-square-foot, castle-like structure.
In his State of the City speech at Morris High School in the Bronx, Mayor Bloomberg said his office had received unsolicited interest in the Armory from groups with the resources to revamp the nearly 95-year-old building. Although the new request for proposals, released on Jan. 12, does not rule out the possibility of another mall project, momentum is building for another type of use.
“We’ve heard from a variety of interested parties who want to develop it into recreational space,” Bloomberg said in his speech.
The frontrunner emerging with recreational plans appears to be a group of investors, including former New York Rangers star Mark Messier, who want to turn the Armory into the region’s (and possibly the nation’s) biggest hockey complex.
The group has already met with Councilman Fernando Cabrera, whose district includes the Armory, and outlined a detailed proposal that Cabrera believes might bring badly-needed jobs and provide youth with recreational opportunities.
Based on the group’s presentation, Cabrera said the Armory could become the “Yankee Stadium of the ice world.”
The plan would include a large central arena with seats for some 5,000 fans, plus another seven or eight skating rinks and space for other activities. Cabrera said the development would create 300 living wage jobs ($10 an hour with benefits, $11.50 without) and that the group would not need city subsidies to complete the project.
In 2009, opponents of the mall plan, which developers said would create 1,000 retail jobs, fought to have it rejected because it didn’t provide enough living wage employment. The developer who earned the bid, Related Companies, received tens of millions of dollars in city subsidies and tax breaks, but would not guarantee living wage jobs at the finished mall.
Paul Foster, the chairman of Community Board 7, said the hockey group is scheduled to meet with the board at three separate meetings in the next month, starting with the land use committee meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26. They will also meet with the executive committee and then present in front of the entire board at the next general meeting in February.
Another group eyeing the Armory is the National Cycling Association, which wants to build a regional bicycling center, complete with a world-class velodrome race track and a BMX park, inside the Armory.
The NCA is fund-raising to put up a temporary velodrome to stage a six-day bike race inside the Armory this spring. The Armory has hosted six-day races in the past, but not for decades. Last week, NCA held a Velodrome Benefit race at Amity Hall in Manhattan where it sold beer from the Bronx Brewery. Organizers estimate it will cost $700,000 to put on the six-day race in the Armory.
Unlike the hockey group, the NCA says it would rely on some public assistance for its permanent Armory project and the group has yet to approach the community board about presenting its plan.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who formed a task force to explore possible developments at the Armory and has met with the cycling and hockey groups, declined to talk specifically about any of the plans while the request for proposals is still open. Interested groups have until March 22 to submit proposals.
Diaz introduced Bloomberg at the State of the City speech and both took the opportunity to say they had buried the hatchet after the contentious fight over the Armory mall proposal in 2009.
After the Council voted to kill the Armory proposal, Bloomberg told the New York Times, “As a result of today’s vote, we can say one thing for sure: There will be no wages paid at all at the Kingsbridge Armory for the foreseeable future.”
Over the past year, however, Cabrera and Diaz have both worked to keep the channels of communication open between mayor’s office and the Bronx regarding the Armory. But when Diaz released his task force report this past summer, there didn’t appear to be any interested groups with the resources to make an Armory project happen without substantial public assistance.
The deep-pocketed hockey group, however, approached the mayor’s office and the borough president sometime after the task force report was released.
Foster said he’s encouraged by the group’s willingness to meet extensively with the board. He wants to know how the community will benefit from the project. He said, he will ask the developer, “What is the community getting out of this, in addition to what you want?”