Advocates Say Armory Fight is Over, But Work Just Beginning

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The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, an organizing nonprofit founded almost 40 years ago to address a growing residential building crisis, began its work seeking a locally-supported redo of the landmark Kingsbridge Armory in 1996. They were joined over the years by many other groups, who together formed the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance. Even more Bronx community organizations came to the table earlier this year to sign a sweeping community benefit agreement that sealed community support for the massive ice center approved by the City Council last week.

The long, important job of getting city approval for redeveloping the Armory is over but another task — ensuring the implementation of the benefits agreement, or CBA— is about to begin.

“There’s no more politics to get through. The thing is gonna happen,” says Heidi Hynes, executive director of the nonprofit Mary Mitchell Center and a Coalition board member.

Right now, the 21 organizations participating with the Armory’s developer in the CBA— which some hail as a national model for its breadth and enforcement mechanisms— have to plan precisely how to hold the developer responsible for a variety of promises.

“It’s up to signatories on the CBA as one group to make real the promises of the CBA,” Hynes says.

Nine ice skating rinks are planned for the world’s biggest armory, the most in one indoor facility anywhere on the planet. Who uses them won’t be known until the 2017 opening. But what happens just beyond the rinks is what’s most critical to many players in the redevelopment process.

“Truth be told,” says Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a Coalition board member who has participated in the Armory issue for the last eight years, “it was never about the ice. It was about the benefits for the community.”

With Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC), the developer, making 52,000 square feet available to the community, Pilgrim-Hunter says the next step is a charrette process, with Bronx organizations working together to determine what that area should become and who will be responsible for it.

The Coalition began its Armory organizing a couple of years after the National Guard vacated the facility in 1994. Three years ago, backed by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., they helped defeat a mall proposal by Mayor Bloomberg because the administration refused to require living-wage jobs at the site. Earlier this year, KNIC welcomed the Coalition and other participating nonprofits to the table to strike a CBA including wages, community space, environment-focused construction and more.

“We’re not aware of other cities or models having the community being such an integral part of a creating a CBA or being a part of keeping the developer accountable,” says Sandra Lobo-Jost, the Coalition’s board president.

Kevin Parker, principal of KNIC partners, raved about the achievement and pointed to the community’s role in a statement the day of the Council vote.

“The Kingsbridge National Ice Center represents more than $1.7 billion in benefits for the Bronx,” he said, “and we are particularly grateful to our friends and partners in the community for their passion, commitment and tireless efforts to create a project worthy of the iconic Kingsbridge Armory and the surrounding neighborhood.”

Even former Bronx assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson, who, just before the Armory vote took place, appeared for the vote for the first time as councilwoman (she replaced Helen Foster who recently left the position) expressed her excitement .

“It’s is a great moment in the history of the Bronx, ” she says. “This model is going to serve as a beacon for fair opportunities.”

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