In 2009, the City Council voted 49-1 in a resounding rejection of the Bloomberg administration’s plan for a shopping mall in the Kingsbridge Armory. Ever since, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has been courting innovators who can turn the 575,000-square-foot-venue into a community space for Bronx residents.
Built between 1912 and 1917 to store arms and ammunition and to train troops, the Kingsbridge Armory is a federal, state, and city landmark that makes an imposing impression on Kingsbridge Road at Jerome Avenue. By the mid-20th century, the fortress-like building was hosting public events such as dog shows and boxing matches. In the 1980s, part of it became a shelter for homeless women. Now vacant for more than a decade, Diaz wants to bring life back into to the armory.
Diaz presented a 200-plus-page Armory Task Force Report in 2011 that projected the economic impact of various types of potential projects, from a sports center to a film studio. His next step was to convince the Bloomberg administration to announce another Request for Proposals for the Kingsbridge Armory, which it did this past January through the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Responses have since come from all over the United States in advance of the March 22 deadline. Here’s a look at some of the projects up for consideration:
Irreplaceable Artifacts: This organization plans to combine arts, arts and crafts, flea markets, and an organic food market in the armory. To fully utilize the space, Irreplaceable Artifacts wants to include incubator spaces for start-up companies. Rather than compete with local businesses, the organization says its facility will enhance the neighboring area by increasing foot traffic.
World Changers Church International: Led by televangelist Dr. Creflo Dollar, the Georgia-based mega-church plans to use the space for daycare, an after-school program, and a summer camp. To engage the community, the center will also include a food and clothing bank, a career center, a drama department that produces plays, and a recording label. The World Changers Church also plans to partner with local government officials to promote change in the community. Having such a large church in the area raises concerns of competition within small local religious institutions. The World Changers Church has seven locations in Manhattan.
Virtual Production and Special EFX Studio: Marc J. Makowski proposed building a virtual reality production facility for film and television productions in the Bronx, the only borough without a major film and video production studio. In addition to serving as a space for film and television producers to work on their projects, the studio will train residents in virtual production techniques.
Kingsbridge Armory Chess Center: Unlike most of the proposals, the Kingsbridge Armory Chess Center does not plan to use the entire 575,000-square-foot-space. A small section of the armory will be used for after-school programs, field trips for Department of Education classes, indoor and outdoor public chess, a tournament hall, a Chess library, a computer center, a senior citizens outreach program, and the New York City Chess History Museum.
New York Sports and Entertainment: The Long Island-based firm wants to use the armory to host minor league hockey and other events, with the possibility of attracting an NBA or WNBA Development League team. In addition to hosting sports events, the venue could hold circuses and concerts. The company plans to partner with Global Spectrum, a subsidiary of Comcast that manages entertainment venues.
The Stanley Kubrick Film and Television Complex: The innovative filmmaker Stanley Kubrick grew up in the Bronx and graduated from William Taft High School. Though the late film legend spent his last 40 years in England, the center will connect the Bronx to Hollywood by providing educational training in television production and computer graphics industries. The project also aims to “re-engineer” the Bronx to become a productive member of the entertainment industry.
New York Velodrome:
The New York Cycling Association wants to convert the armory into an official USA Cycling Center with an Olympic-size, 250-meter velodrome with spectator seating, portable restroom facilities, and concession areas. An optional feature is an indoor BMX course for training and league competitions. The center would provide free recreational, racing, and training programs for Bronx and New York City youth, as well as health, educational, and career advice. The space could host international events, such as world championships and Olympic Games, concerts, boxing matches, court sports, rallies, and graduations. By partnering with the Armory Sports and Entertainment Group, the organization also hopes to build basketball courts and rock-climbing walls. A hotel or hostel to house visiting athletes is also in the plans.
The Kingsbridge National Ice Center: A group that includes New York Rangers legend Mark Messier and Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes proposes to build eight ice rinks and a public school. The program, modeled after one in Philadelphia started by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, will use hockey to teach inner-city children and inspire success.
With proposals racing in until the end of today, the Economic Development Corporation has quite a decision to make, especially considering the project’s financing. The only group to submit a financing plan for its proposal was the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which plans to use its own money to build eight ice rinks and a public school.
Financing concerns aren’t the only ones challenging these organizations’ plans for the Kingsbridge Armory. With Diaz’s proposal for a Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, organizations who use the city’s taxpayer funds may have to guarantee employees $10 an hour plus benefits, or $11.50 without benefits.
After submissions are reviewed, the NYCEDC may negotiate with one more respondent groups prior to extending a contract or lease for the space.
One thing is for sure: New York’s armories are cultural treasures (see Treasures of New York: Park Avenue Armory), and the organization chosen to build in the Kingsbridge Armory will have its hands full.