The New York City Economic Development Corp. has opened the doors of the Kingsbridge Armory to the public for a series of tours continuing through March 26. It’s a chance to glimpse inside the musty interior of the historic structure and wander through the 180,000-square-foot drill hall before the agency puts out an official call for redevelopment proposals this summer.
About a dozen intrepid armory explorers circled around the tour guide Fernando Ortiz, who is the NYCEDC Bronx borough director, in the echoey drill hall for a tour last Saturday, March 11. They bundled up in winter hats and scarves.
“It’s a little colder in here than it is outside. And that’s because there’s no HVAC system. There’s no fire suppression system. There’s no nothing in here,” explained Ortiz.
The last development proposal that would have transformed the armory into an ice-skating center had a projected budget of $350 million. It’s still the NYCEDC’s best estimate of the total cost of repairing and redeveloping the armory.
The NYCEDC is tasked with generating revenue and spurring job growth by leasing out a huge portfolio of city-owned property.
But it has failed to do so for one of the Bronx’s greatest gems. The armory has remained largely vacant for decades as plans have failed to come to fruition under the last three mayors.
The current public visioning process will conclude June 1, when NYCEDC aims to release its vision document compiling ideas from workshops and surveys engaging about 2,000 people, Ortiz said.
The public engagement is being led by Together for Kingsbridge, a working group chaired by city councilmember Pierina Sanchez and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition executive director Sandra Lobo.
Could the city hand the armory over to a community land trust instead?
“That’s definitely something that we’ve heard loud and clear in the community,” Ortiz said.
“I think because of the space and the magnitude of the armory, it could be just the head house, just certain components is a CLT,” he continued. “It could use that governance structure and not actually, you know, own the building. We’re going to hit challenges as the City of New York is not going to want to let go of such a huge asset.”
The full results of physical needs assessments and building surveys have not yet been made public. Ortiz said the NYCEDC just finished a round of asbestos abatement in the drill hall that cost several hundred thousand dollars.
No one knows just how many subterranean floors lie below its concrete flow – possibly as many as seven. Access is difficult because of asbestos, lead, and flood water that is more is less constantly being pumped out of the armory’s cellar.
Its building footprint is three times the size of the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which has recently been transformed into the Major R. Owens Health & Wellness Community Center.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition has been examining other models for adaptive reuse that hand over some portion of property ownership to local communities. They point to successful case studies around the country like Market Creek in San Diego and downtown Crenshaw in Los Angeles.