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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Armory Report: Long in Length, Short on Answers

The Kingsbridge Armory, on West Kingsbridge Road. (File photo by Adi Talwar)

Editor's Note: This story was first published in the latest issue of the Norwood News, on the streets and online now.


Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has made it clear redeveloping the vacant 575,000-square-foot Kingsbridge Armory into a quality-job-producing, vibrant community space, is a top priority of his administration. But a much-anticipated report created by an Armory task force he assembled was released with little fanfare earlier this month and appears to generate more questions than answers.

On June 21, Diaz’s office quietly released the 267-page report, which included no clear plan for financing the redevelopment. It detailed all of the meetings of the task force, which included union reps, health care industry leaders, developers, community activists and elected officials. It also included three models for possible redevelopment created by a group of New York University graduate students and faculty.

John DeSio, a spokesman for the borough president, said the point of the task force was not to come up with a proposal or a clear plan for financing it. The point, he said, was to show there was still interest in the Amory and to call on the mayor to issue a request for proposals (RFP). DeSio said he had every intention of trumpeting the report with a press conference, but said it had already been leaked to media outlets, so they decided to release it early in the morning, via e-mail.

“The work of the task force shows just how much interest there is in this historic structure,” Diaz said in a statement announcing the report. “This report proves that we can put together a proposal that not only brings development to the site, but does so in a complementary manner that takes into account the needs of the surrounding community and the Bronx as a whole.”

Diaz is under pressure to see a new RFP released after leading the defeat of a Bloomberg-backed plan to turn the Armory into a retail shopping mall. After the Council killed the plan, Bloomberg said he didn’t think the Amory would be redeveloped in the “foreseeable future.”

In separate editorials, the Daily News and New York Post blasted the report for containing little substance. “After 15 months of consultation and cogitation, Diaz has released a 267-page report that amounts to humiliating, disastrous zilch,” the Daily News wrote. It produced nothing, the editorial said, “except hilarious laughter at the half-baked proposals he drummed up from would-be occupants.”

The NYU team came up with three models -- a sports and entertainment complex, a film studio and a sustainable food industry center -- that would each include space for community groups and some kind of job training program. The report estimated that the sports and entertainment complex would create the most jobs, about 420, with the least amount of investment.

Jack Kittle, who sat on the task force as a representative of the building and trades unions and was admittedly skeptical about the body’s value, said the process “wasn’t unproductive.”

The problem, Kittle said, is that no one seemed willing to put any money into the project. “We listened to one guy after another, no one wanted to bring own resources to the table.”

Several groups expressed interest in using the Armory once it was developed. DeSio said the task force envisioned some type of public-private financing option to get the job done.

Another union rep, Steve McInnis of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, agreed. “I think it was set up with the best of intentions but in a really down economy, our prospects are limited,” he said.

A spokesman for task force co-chair Fernando Cabrera, the councilman whose district includes the Armory, said Cabrera was too busy with city budget negotiations to answer specific questions about the Armory.

State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who lives within shouting range of the Armory, said coming up with a sustainable, long-term plan for the Armory is the priority, not getting something done quickly. “We still have a long way ahead,” he said, “but this is the first step.”


  1. The obvious use for such a large space - and it is a very large space, at one time it was the largest indoor space on the east coast of the USA, and possibly in the entire country, it was the site of may conventions in the 50's including the IEEE show - is as a site for minor league pro sports and concerts (exhibitions & shows also being possible). Many minor league pro sports clubs (basketball in particular, and maybe indoor football) would love to have a NYC home court location.

    The lower space which is considerable (below the main floor) would be well used by artists (painters, sculpters), artisans, craftsmen, retailers of unique products not found elsewhere, and space for local groups, meetings and activities.

    If no private investors wish to purchase the property for this sort of use, the County should set up an Authority to operate it, or create some similar sort of organization with a clear vision, not some self-serving bureaucratic nightmare collecting salaries for not really doing much.

    Another stupid retail center would be a total waste of magnificent and unique space. A worthless waste of a unique opportunity that once chopped up will be lost forever to the community.

    That building could be a dynamic NEXUS of culture and arts, events, for the entire BOROUGH.

    If the people in control/charge can't figure this out and do it, they should step aside and let others lead the way.

    I can be reached or spammed at newidea at localnet dot com


  2. Not just basketball and indoor football, how about Track? The armory in Manhattan is a fantastic example of how this space can be used to revive the Bronx running scene. Make this place the Mecca of running in the Bronx and it will be a beacon of health, sportsmanship and athleticism our borough can be proud of. Bring running back to the Bronx!

  3. How will any of this get funded? Money for developing the armory is the biggest obstacle. You need to find someone who will fund it without public help because no one will be able to provide something that the activists deem acceptable AND make money on the deal. It's a catch-22.

  4. It would be wonderful if a part of this space (certainly not all) would be dedicated to honoring Bronx residents who have served in the military. After all, this was originally a military facility. And many Bronxites serve and have served so selflessly, while others in this city (particularly the more affluent) have no understanding of, and even look down upon, those who serve.

  5. Let's see... This IS New York City? Round up a few of the top musicians to do a benefit concert, fill the place with ~5-10,000 people at about $20-$30 a pop and now you have seed money... probably enough to turn on the lights... it's called bootstrapping, and getting PEOPLE involved, not having some corporate top down nonsense involved! The track idea is good, especially if it does not tie up the floor full time and other things can still be put on... One indoor minor league pro team with decent advertising will pack the place every game... fwiw... anyhow, I no longer live in the Bronx, so maybe it is easier to visualize and see from afar? The problem comes in terms of greedy and selfish people and organizations, corporations with narrow agendas and self serving ideas... Go For IT!! :D

  6. @ Ron Wegsman
    One thing we tend to forget about this armory and all of the armories built in the late 19th century, early 20th is that they were built to protect the "affluent". These imposing structures and the weapons they stored had nothing to do with national defense against foreign enemies (think about it -- what foreign enemy was going to invade the Bronx in the late 19th century?) --they were about protecting the "affluent" during times of "civil unrest" mostly the "unrest" of labor organizing. The "affluent" were few and the great unwashed were many and the unwashed were not content to stay in their places and started questioning the gross inequalities and organizing against the status quo. These armories went up to remind them whom they were up against and to scare them into submission.

  7. I have never heard such a ridiculous fable before in my life-- the armory was built to intimidate poor people? Wow!

  8. @ Anonymous 7/8/11 10:55 AM

    If you think what I wrote is a fable -- do a little research. Here's some stuff I got with a quick google search:


    "Following the Civil War, the U.S. government was becoming increasingly concerned over the possibility of widespread civil unrest and class warfare. This led to the authorization of fortified bases for local militia throughout the country by the United States War Department in 1877. Local Armory Boards were organized in many states and cities, leading to the construction of numerous armories."


    "Between 1840 and 1940 many armories were built in New York City, originally for the purpose of providing a drill hall and offices to local militias, stationed there to counter upper-class fears of social unrest during increasing immigration."


    "No one seems certain what to do with these dinosaurs from the 19th c. Current uses and proposals range from homeless shelters to recreational spaces to urban malls. They are often festooned with commemorative markers dedicated to those who served their country in foreign wars or the American Civil War.

    But it should not be forgotten that the most important original function of these behemoths was to intimidate and control the local population. Built in response to domestic social unrest in the late 19th c., a time when huge numbers of immigrants were pouring into the country, bringing along such "foreign" ideas as socialism and anarchism, armories served as a kind of "Department of Homeland Security" of their day."

  9. This Monday night Kingsbridge Armory Task Force member and BOEDC Executive Director Marlene Cintron will be the guest on BronxTalk to discuss the latest report on Kingsbridge Armory. Beginning at 9:00pm host Gary Axelbank will quiz Ms. Cintron about the task force's recommendations for renovating the Armory and other related issues.

    Viewers can have their say by calling in at 718-960-7241 during the program.


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