The Kingsbridge Armory, known also as the Eighth Regiment Armory, is a 575,000 square foot building at 29 West Kingsbridge Road in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. It is a former military facility that was built between 1912 and 1917 in the Romanesque style. The complex, which takes up the entire block, has an 180,000 square foot drill hall and an 800 seat theater. The National Guard gave the facility to the city and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the complex a landmark in 1974.
The City has tried to reuse the space since 1994. Several plans failed for various reasons, including community opposition. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to turn the facility into a retail mall and Chelsea Pier-style sports complex were defeated because of concerns from the community. Starting in 2006, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) moved forward with redevelopment plans, issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the sale and redevelopment of the landmark.
The City’s vision for the Kingsbridge Armory is to create a mixed-use facility that will anchor the local community and create a unique destination to attract visitors from throughout the city and the region. The RFP, released in September of 2006, envisions stores, a park perimeter, a movie theater or cultural venue and rental space for community organizations at reduced rates. The RFP specifically discouraged the inclusion of suburban-style big-box stores and stated that preference would be given to projects that provide retail jobs that pay at least $10 an hour and include benefit packages.
One controversial aspect of the proposed development is school space. Many in the community believe that some space in the Armory should be used for new schools. The RFP included that the NYC Department of Education (DOE) was prepared to fund and build one primary school with 441 seats, and one primary/intermediate school with 630 seats. DOE reversed their initial assessment in November of 2007, stating that there were a sufficient number of school seats in the area to meet the community’s needs. Residents and community leaders believe that the DOE is underestimating the growing population and is overlooking the fact that area schools are overcrowding. However, no schools will be included because of DOE’s decision.
In February 2007, three developers — Atlantic Development Group, the Related Cos., and Rosenshein Associates – submitted their plans with the NYCEDC in response to the City’s RFP. Progress on the bid selection process was stalled a month later when the NYCEDC asked members of the Task Force selected to evaluate the plans to sign a confidentially agreement that they would not discuss the details of the three plans. Members of the Task Force, including many of the elected officials, opposed the confidentiality agreement because they believed it would keep information from the public. The NYCEDC contends that they were trying to maintain some integrity in the selection process. Ultimately only the bid made by the Atlantic Development Group was made public. That plan included public schools for 2,000 students, a 57,200-square-foot YMCA, 13,000-25,000 square feet of community space, and a retail portion with a department store, a movie theater, and a parking garage.
Before the final selection process was announced, several community organizations – including churches, neighborhood groups, and labor unions – formed a group called the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) to advocate for the interest of Bronx residents and business owners. Some of the issues that KARA is pushing for in a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) include the specification of a “living wage” for workers as well as the commitment from the developer that they will hire locals for new jobs.
In March of 2008, the Related Companies was chosen as the winning bid to redevelop the Armory. The choice was only between Related and the Atlantic Group, as Rosenshein Associates dropped out of the bidding process.
The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) was certified by the Department of City Planning in May 2009. Community Board 7 has proactively set up meetings with the community and the Related Companies in an effort to make sure that community concerns are addressed.
In March 2009, the City’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) approved $17 million in tax breaks for the Related Companies. The approval of the tax breaks came despite opposition from local community groups and some elected officials, including City Controller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (D), who had hoped to delay a decision until a CBA was finalized.
The KARA has continued to push Related to guarantee living wages (approximately $10/hour) for all Armory jobs, while the developer has claimed that living wage positions are not feasible for every vendor. Many community members have vocalized opposition to Related’s intent to house a 60,000 square foot supermarket in the Armory, arguing that the store would compete with existing local businesses and groceries and threaten jobs (the supermarket was not presented as part of Related’s original bid). Employees and spokespersons for the nearby Morton Williams chain store have been particularly vocal opponents, though some business owners of the other 44 markets within a 2-mile radius of the Armory site have also voiced opposition. Both KARA and opponents of the new supermarket have been urging Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (D) to include their key issues in his recommendations. By the middle of August 2009, Diaz and every City Council member from the Bronx announced their opposition Related’s inclusion of a new supermarket.
Despite some community opposition, Bronx Community Board 7 approved Related’s development plan (with conditions) on July 14th, 2009, though this vote is only advisory. President Diaz voted against the project. The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposal on December 9, 2009.