Plans for the Kingsbridge Armory begin to Unfreeze

The Kingsbridge Armory, located on W. Kingsbridge Road & Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Photo Courtesy of Obediah Poteat

Brooklyn, NY— Hopes for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC) are beginning to return as the New York State Legislature approved a whopping $108 million for the proposed ice center, a project that some considered to be melting away. This is just a fraction of the estimated $350 million cost for the development that will reside in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The ball is now in the city’s court, as they decide whether or not to turn the lease over to the developers of KNIC, and members of the community figure out what’s next.

The Kingsbridge Armory has been closed for over 20 years. The current proposal stands to turn the five-acre building into an indoor ice skating center. According to the New York City Economic Development Center (NYCEDC), KNIC will consist of nine indoor ice rinks, one of those rinks will be a feature rink that will seat about 5,000 people. Prospectively, that feature rink will host a variety of national and international ice sporting events.

The conversion process has been a long and slow ordeal, with some back and forth between the de Blasio administration and the developers, KNIC LLC, since 2014. The city first declined turning over the lease, citing the developers needed to secure a binding funding agreement with the state. At that time, representatives for KNIC LLC told city officials they were able to secure $20 million in private fundraising and a $60 million non-binding loan from the state. As a result, the developers sued Empire State Development, the city’s leasing office, for what they called “deliberately delaying” the project by not turning over the lease. A Bronx judge then ruled that if the developers were able to gather the funds for the first phase of the project, the city should consider turning over the lease. And now, here we are.

“It has been a really long time. And now that it’s happening, it feels like we can get excited again,” says Yvonne “EV” Viruet, a community organizer for the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. (NWBCCC).

As plans stalled, community members and organizations like the NWBCCC, a community organization who played a pivotal role in crushing past proposals, as well as giving life to the KNIC project, felt left in the dark and didn’t know what else to do. “We want to make sure that whatever goes there, it’ll be a place the community can be proud of and know their voice were heard,” says Leah James, a lead organizer for the organization. “But if nothing is progressing, there’s nothing for us to go back to the community to tell them. And that’s when people lose interest.”

After KNIC LLC won the bid to redevelop the armory, NWBCCC was able to secure a hefty Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the developers, insuring the community would not be left out. Under the current CBA, KNIC LLC agreed to provide:

· Living wage jobs, with 51 percent of the jobs going to Bronx residents,

· 25 percent of construction contracts given to Women and Minority Owned Businesses in the Bronx,

· At least 25 percent and as high as 51 percent of goods and services purchased by the project coming from the Bronx,

· 52,000 square feet of community space and 8 million dollars contributed by developer to build out the space,

· At least 1 percent of annual ice rink rental revenue invested into community development,

· 1 million dollars per year- indexed to inflation- contributed towards local non-profits and title one public schools using the rinks for free and the community converting rinks for other recreational use.

· LEED Silver sustainable design

· No big box retail

· 100,000 dollars contributed by the developer towards de-mapping w.195th Street to make way for new school.

But some members of the community believe the CBA is outdated and needs to be renegotiated, including Randy Abreu, who is running to replace Councilman Fernando Cabrera of New York City’s 18th district, the district in which the armory resides. “I applaud KNIC for coming to the table a few years ago and working with community leaders to get a CBA done. But so much time has passed since that day… the CBA originally promised living wage jobs at $10/hr with benefits. At the time, minimum wage in NYC was $8/hr. As we move to a minimum wage of $15/hr, a revised CBA should reflect that change while not taking away from other benefits such as green jobs and community space for arts and programming,” Abreu advocates.

While it seems like the ball is rolling, there is still a lot of work for all parties involved. Though the state has allocated the funds for the project, they have not yet released them to KNIC LLC and there is no indication as to when they will. The city’s timeline for turning over the lease is also unknown.

Jessica Leonardo, a resident, wants all sides to cooperate so that the vision once held by the community can be restored. “When we first heard of the plan it was something we were definitely excited about. There were some skepticism here and there… I just hope all of this can be resolved so that we can have something to look forward to again.

As the ice slowly thickens, it seems that the project hasn’t even cleared the tip of iceberg.

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