The landmark Kingsbridge Armory was built in 1910 in the northwest section of the Bronx. It’s a huge 600,000 square foot building that takes up a full city block. This beautiful building was allowed to fall into disrepair and the interior which once housed a lecture hall, basketball courts and shooting ranges is now filled with falling ceilings, crumbling walls and in some areas a stream runs through the building. Due to the buildings federal, state and local landmark designation, tearing down the Armory is not an option. For decades, various plans have been offered as to future uses for this neglected real estate treasure. The most recent plan – a shopping mall which was backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg – was voted down by the city Council in 2010.
The city’s Economic Development Corp. is weighing new proposals and hopes to pick a winning plan by the end of the year. The two most prominent plans differ vastly and have sparked a battle between an influential community group and local politicians.
One proposal for the armory calls for the building to become the biggest facility for ice sports in the world. Operating under the name “Kingsbridge National Ice Center” (KNIC), the project would net the city $1.3 billion dollars in “economic impact” over 30 years, according to the group behind the proposal. The estimate includes $370 million in construction-related “economic activity” and $88 million in annual business, including a attracting 7,000 visitors a day – more than 2.5 million a year, including almost 1.5 million new visitors from outside the Bronx. This proposal has received endorsements from local politicians including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
The competing plan called “Mercado Mirabo,” a multi-use facility similar to Chelsea Market has gained the support of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, an influential community group. Mercado Mirabo calls for a holiday and weekend marketplace with hundreds of small vendors selling merchandise and food in rows of stalls as well as two larger anchor retail tenants. It would also have space for concerts and conferences, a first-run movie theater, a hip-hop museum, a Crunch fitness gym, a youth basketball program and a rock-climbing wall described as the worlds tallest.
“Neither project is perfect, but KNIC’s is less flexible because it revolves around ice, what if we don’t want to skate?” says Alice McIntosh, a leader for the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance. “We give the example of Chelsea Market as a comparison for what we want to do,” said Adam Zucker, director of business development for YoungWoo, the firm behind Mercado Mirabo. “Fifteen years ago, people thought it was crazy to develop it and that West Chelsea was a no man’s land, but now it’s seen as the godfather of what Chelsea has become.”
Mr. Diaz is backing the ice-center plan because the developers are promising to pay above minimum wages to all workers at the ice center and to provide community space. Mercado Mirabo’s developers said they can’t do the same because they can’t control the wages that operators at the market would pay. They said they are willing to sign a community benefits agreement.
Retail spaces near the armory now include a mixture of small businesses and chains such as McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Duane Reade. In the area immediately surrounding the armory, 34% of families had an income below the poverty level, according to the Census’ 2006-10 American Community Survey.
“Something, anything, would be good,” said Salvatore Bruno, the owner of a photocopying business, Copy Shop, near the armory since 1984. “I don’t really care what goes in, but I think a skating rink might be too glitzy for the area. It’s more like something you see in Scarsdale.”
State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who lives a block away from the armory, supports the ice-center proposal because it would be “iconic and something that’s never been in the Bronx before.” Nevertheless, he said: “I would hope that whatever ultimately happens, it’s something we could get together on.