Long-planned $92M Bronx animal shelter breaks ground at controversial Bay Plaza site

animal shelter construction bay plaza
The Bronx doesn’t have a full service animal shelter. But that’s going to change, with construction underway at the Bay Plaza Mall.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Construction has begun on a massive $92 million city-funded animal shelter and clinic at the Bay Plaza Mall in the northeast Bronx.

Animal advocates rejoiced late Thursday morning knowing their longtime efforts to bring an animal shelter to the Bronx were becoming a reality. Construction vehicles moved onto the site shortly after city officials stuck shovels in the ground in celebration.

The city-owned property, which previously housed NYPD trailers, sits in between the Bay Plaza Mall’s Red Lobster restaurant and Project Hope, a senior apartment building. The mall is sandwiched between parts of Co-op City, a massive affordable housing cooperative that its management company, the Riverbay Corporation, says is the largest in the world.

A group of people hold shovels over a pile of dirt
City officials celebrate the start of construction for the project Thursday morning. Photo Aliya Schneider

The 2060 Bartow Ave. facility will be a whopping 50,000 square feet with a capacity for 70 dogs, 140 cats, 30 rabbits and 20 animals of other species. Along with admission and adoption services, the center will have a lowcost veterinary clinic.

The facility will have covered exercise runs, courtyards and community space, according to the NYC Department of Design and Construction. The shelter will have an educational program for kids and volunteer opportunities for seniors, city officials said on Thursday.

The city’s animal shelters are overseen by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and operated by nonprofit Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC).

The Co-op City project, which was previously slated to open next fall, has an expected completion in spring 2025. In the absence of an animal shelter in the Bronx, ACC has been operating an animal resource center on East Fordham Road.

While the resource center offers vaccine clinics, pet food and surrender prevention efforts, it doesn’t have the capacity to house animals, Risa Weinstock, the CEO of ACC, told the Bronx Times. If Bronxites need to surrender their pets, ACC helps transport them to the full service shelter in Manhattan, she said.

rendering of a road and building with a cage outside for animals
A rendering of the future animal shelter in Co-op City. Rendering courtesy New York City Department of Design and Construction

The groundbreaking on Thursday was a long time in the making for the Bronx Animal Shelter Endeavor (BASE), a group of advocates who have been calling for a shelter in the Bronx for years. The group proposed an overhaul of the city’s animal shelter system to former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 and supported exCouncilmember Paul Vallone’s bill that required full service animal shelters in all five boroughs by July 2024, which was signed into law in 2018.

But the Bronx shelter didn’t come without controversy.

De Blasio announced the Co-op City site in January 2018 after committing $10 million toward opening full service shelters in the Bronx and Queens in 2016, which both lacked shelters at the time. That year, the local Bronx Community Board 10 and former Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. took stances against the Co-op City location, citing a lack of support from local residents.

“This was not an acceptable site,” Matthew Cruz, the district manager of Community Board 10, told amNewYork in 2018. “Co-op City residents were against the site chosen by the mayor’s office, and our board voted accordingly.”

construction workers on site
Workers on the project site Thursday morning, with the Bay Plaza Mall and Co-op City in the background. Photo Aliya Schneider

Diaz said the city didn’t make enough outreach efforts to Co-op City residents and the community had already long desired a recreational facility at the site. Plus, since Riverbay Corporation prohibits pets, the shelter would largely serve people from outside the area, Diaz argued.

Then-Councilmember Andy King also didn’t support the location because of community opposition until agreeing to a compromise with de Blasio that promised benefits for local residents, like the community center slated for the building. The City Council unanimously approved the site in November 2018, which had a more modest $60 million price tag.

The apartments at Co-op City still have a no pet policy, Cary Smith, the assistant executive general manager of Riverbay Corporation, confirmed with the Bronx Times on Thursday. But there are approximately 871 approved dogs among the 15,372 apartment units that are either designated service animals or emotional support animals in the complex, Smith said.

Smith said he has heard mixed reactions about the new shelter from residents.

Design and Construction Commissioner Thomas Foley speaks at the project site
“Two years from now we will be walking through these doors with smiles on our faces,” said city Design and Construction Commissioner Thomas Foley. Photo Aliya Schneider

Linda Berk, the former president of Riverbay’s board, told the Bronx Times in 2018 that many board members weren’t happy about the shelter coming to the area, as they had been proposing that the site be used for a community center for years. First Hartford Realty Corporation — a partner on the neighboring Project Hope senior housing — even lobbied to create an affordable housing building with a community center on the city-owned site, according to an amNewYork report.

Alexandra Silver, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare, said at the groundbreaking Thursday that she has learned through working with ACC that while many strays end up in shelters, so do many animals that are surrendered by families who can’t care for them anymore.

“Often, what is good for animals is good for people,” she said. ” … This new center will expand our city’s ability to care for animals in need and bring essential services to Bronx residents. It will be an important resource for community members who have a companion animal or who are looking for a companion animal, but it’s also an important home for career, volunteer and educational opportunities.”

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, told the Bronx Times that along with the mental health benefits that come with having a pet, animal control is a public health issue.

“There isn’t a commercial element to this,” the health commissioner told the Bronx Times, addressing the almost decade-long efforts that lead to the groundbreaking. “Commercial real estate comes up like that. This isn’t a commercial issue. This is a public health issue. And it’s harder to galvanize people behind that because it’s a community effort without a clear return except for the people who actually interact with these centers who know how important the work that goes on here is.”

No Bronx elected officials attended the groundbreaking.

Councilmember Kevin Riley, who represents Co-op City, did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes