The auditorium of P.S. 340 Annex reached capacity last Saturday during a public workshop on the future of the Kingsbridge Armory — a structure large enough to contain three football fields, 27 basketball courts, or if you like, nine Rose Main Reading Rooms of the New York Public Library.
The six-month public visioning process currently underway is triggering Kingsbridge’s creativity.
The crowd Saturday was a cross-section of northwest Bronx. There were high school and college students, retirees, local merchants, community education council members, Kingsbridge Heights Community Center staff, and rank-and-file members of Laborers’ Local 79, Painters DC 9, and UFCW Local 1500.
The second of four public workshops got participants to think critically about how the future use of the armory will reflect the community’s values.
“Wouldn’t it be great if I could come down from Riverdale to this armory and get the same things I would get if I went to Chelsea Piers?” said Roberta Bronx, a retired IBM project manager and current health justice organizer with Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.
She was interested in the armory’s potential uses for sports and recreation, but also had certain principals in mind.
“Let’s have something built where the money is not just going to an owner. What’s been going on since the seventies is top people taking so much and the workers not getting their fair share. It would be great to go somewhere and know everyone was being paid a living wage.”
A working group is overseeing the workshops, surveys, and various other forms of community engagement. That group is co-chaired by city Councilwoman Pierina Sanchez and Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition executive director Sandra Lobo.
Sanchez said ideas involving youth opportunities have stood out as particularly popular.
“What’s important is that these sessions set the parameters for how we judge options in the future,” Sanchez said. “So after the sessions, we cannot just give this building away. This is a city asset.”
The city’s Economic Development Corp. — the armory’s landlord — was also on the scene Saturday, and has in fact quietly helped orchestrate the whole process.
They hired WXY, an architectural and design firm, to assess the armory’s physical condition and Hester Street to design and facilitate the public workshops and surveys.
The public visioning phase will conclude this spring with visioning document laying the groundwork for a formal request for proposals.
In the meantime, the armory may soon be open to the public to view and daydream about the future. Abatement work is currently underway to make that possible.
It has seldom been used since the property was turned over to the city in 1996. Development proposals favored by the past three New York City mayors each failed in turn to come to fruition.
“What we’ve been kind of stressing is, what about its governance, what about its ownership?” said Lobo. “How is it generating wealth? And who profits from that?”
“This one is definitely a bigger turnout,” said Ischia Bravo, Bronx Community Board 7’s district manager.