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Armory groups request more enhancements

A coalition of community, religious and labor groups from Kingsbridge Heights are calling for increased responsible and equitable development from the Kingsbridge Armory renovation project to help enhance the area’s economic standing.

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance is urging the project’s developer, Related Companies, to negotiate a community benefits agreement that would ensure the integration of community needs into the renovation plans. 

Related plans to invest $310 million into the project, which will include 35 retail stores and an anchor department store, but the capital investment is not enough, according to some.

“Our message is that developers can no longer ignore their responsibilities to the community,” Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said.

Applebaum represents one of KARA’s five major community groups determined to increase the quality of life in the northwest Bronx.

“Working together, unions and neighborhood activists are out to make the Armory an example of what development in New York City ought to be all about,” Applebaum added.

KARA’s vision for the Armory, located at 29 W. Kingsbridge Road, includes employment opportunities for local residents, both short and long term, that provide an acceptable hourly rate, union protection and benefits.

“We’re not just going to accept just any type of jobs,” long time Kingsbridge Heights resident Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter said. “We need jobs that pay a real living wage that families can support themselves on.”

The addition of Related’s projected 1,800 construction and 2,000 permanent jobs would help alleviate Kingsbridge Heights’ 18% unemployment rate, with a third of the population also living below the poverty line.

“That’s right in line with what the community needs,” Community Board 7 district manager Fernando Tirado said.

Related also already incorporated a rooftop open space and landscaped public plaza for community use into the Armory’s redevelopment plans.

But the alliance said it’s not enough.

KARA, which has the support of Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Congressman Jose E. Serrano, among other elected officials, is additionally requesting a state-of-the art recreational center to occupy the 575,000 square foot facility and four small schools, seating 2,000 students, to be built on land adjacent to the armory.

Whiles Tirado said the board supports most of KARA’s requests for the space, he added the group must reach out to the neighborhood via structured channels to better gauge the true needs of the community.

“It’s not something they can do in isolation from the community board,” he said.

Currently working to establish communications with KARA, Tirado added, “We hope to make it available for everyone to participate in the process.”

Also looking to gain residents’ input, Related spokesperson Joanna Rose said, “Related looks forward to working with the community and all the stakeholders to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory and continue the renaissance of the Bronx.”

NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. said these communications will ensure a better outcome for the property.

“Nobody knows the needs of the Kingsbridge Heights area better than its residents and organizations,” Thompson said.

Built between 1912 and 1917, the EDC hopes to use the project as a model of adaptive reuse of the borough’s historic buildings.

“The success of our city’s development should always be judged by the way we provide for our people,” Thompson said, in agreement. “Developers should never plan for a community. Instead, they should plan with a community.”

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