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Wall Street Journal

Differing Visions For Armory

Residents and elected officials in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx have spent nearly two decades trying to redevelop the neighborhood's imposing armory on West 195th Street, but various plans for reusing the long-vacant structure have failed to come to fruition.

The landmark armory, which was built in the 1910s and occupies nearly a full city block at the southern tip of the neighborhood, is seen as having the potential to provide a significant economic boost to the area. But the most recent plan for its redevelopment—a shopping mall backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg—was voted down by the City Council in 2010.

The city's Economic Development Corp. now is weighing new proposals. A spokesman for the corporation said it hopes to pick a winning plan by the end of the year.

The two most prominent plans have sparked differences between local politicians and an influential community group, setting the stage for another battle over the property after a proposal is chosen.

One proposal for the armory calls for creating the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, billed as the biggest facility for ice sports in the world. It has received endorsements from local politicians that include Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

But one influential community group says the developers behind a competing plan called Mercado Mirabo, a multiuse facility in the vein of Chelsea Market, have been more receptive to neighborhood concerns.

"Neither project is perfect, but KNIC's is less flexible because it revolves around ice," Alice McIntosh, a leader for the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a grass-roots campaign that had joined with Mr. Diaz in opposing the mall plan in 2010. "What if we don't want to skate?"

John DeSio, the director of communications for Mr. Diaz, said that "both proposals are good, but we think the ice center is better."

KNIC's proposal would transform the armory into a giant sports facility solely devoted to ice hockey and other ice sports. The largest of its nine rinks would seat up to 5,000 spectators. There also would be recreational skating and lessons; special events such as tournaments; and a free after-school program for youth involving both academic help and skating lessons.

The president of KNIC Partners, Jonathan Richter, a New York real-estate developer who has played amateur hockey for more than 35 years, said that his group has worked to make its plans transparent to the neighborhood. He said in a statement that KNIC has met frequently with community boards and neighborhood organizations and "will continue this dialogue as long as we are part of the redevelopment process."

The Mercado Mirabo concept being pitched by New York-based developer YoungWoo & Associates would put the armory to a wide variety of uses at the same time.

It calls for a holiday and weekend marketplace with hundreds of small vendors selling merchandise and food in rows of stalls as well as two larger anchor retail tenants. It would also have space for concerts and conferences, a first-run movie theater, a hip-hop museum, a Crunch fitness gym, a youth basketball program and a rock-climbing wall described as the world's tallest.

"We give the example of Chelsea Market as a comparison for what we want to do," said Adam Zucker, director of business development for YoungWoo. "Fifteen years ago, people thought it was crazy to develop it and that West Chelsea was a no man's land, but now it's seen as the godfather of what Chelsea has become."

Both development teams commissioned economic studies, with the ice center projecting two million visitors a year and $1.3 billion in benefits over 30 years, while Mercado Mirabo is expecting 1.13 million visitors a year and $180 million in benefits annually.

Mr. Diaz is backing the ice-center plan because the developers are promising to pay above minimum wages to all workers at the ice center and to provide community space.

Mercado Mirabo's developers said they can't do the same because they can't control the wages that operators at the market would pay. They said they are willing to sign a community benefits agreement.

Retail spaces near the armory now include a mixture of small businesses and chains such as McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Duane Reade. In the area immediately surrounding the armory, 34% of families had an income below the poverty level, according to the Census's 2006-10 American Community Survey.

"Something, anything, would be good," said Salvatore Bruno, the owner of a photocopying business, Copy Shop, near the armory since 1984. "I don't really care what goes in, but I think a skating rink might be too glitzy for the area. It's more like something you see in Scarsdale."

State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who lives a block away from the armory, supports the ice-center proposal because it would be "iconic and something that's never been in the Bronx before." Nevertheless, he said: "I would hope that whatever ultimately happens, it's something we could get together on."

On the Market in the Neighborhood:

2685 Creston Ave.,
No. 4J
This is a two-bedroom, two-bath co-op.
Property Plus: One block to multiple subway lines
Property Minus: No pets
Listing Agent: Shebrelle Hunter-Green of Halstead, 917-312-9097

Thursday, November 29, 2012