Bronxites had another opportunity to give their input on the fate of the Kingsbridge Armory at an online meeting Thursday, hosted by borough politicians and local agencies that are involved with the renovation project.
New York City Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, who represents the Kingsbridge area in District 14, attended Thursday night’s Zoom meeting to hear feedback from community members. She said that the armory itself was once a beautiful structure, but for more than 30 years has been a neglected part of the Bronx.
“The reality is that this is something that could really help the borough as a whole, could really lift up our assets,” Sanchez said on the call.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also made an appearance at the Zoom meeting, saying she supported the collaborative efforts to make progress on the project.
“Together we will build Kingsbridge and really make it a model for the Bronx and the entire nation,” she said.
During Thursday’s session, attendees spoke about their ideas for what should come of the armory. Some ideas floated included turning the facility into a museum, convention space, media and film hub, sustainability education center and a multi-purpose athletic building.
According to the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Kingsbridge Armory opened in 1917 as a military facility. It was used throughout the first half of the 20th century — then designated as a city landmark in 1974 and put on the state National Register of Historical Places in 1982 — but has been mostly vacant since 1996.
Locals have long been intrigued by the structure, even as they’ve watched multiple proposed renovations fail. Most recently, the armory has been used for emergency purposes: serving people experiencing homelessness, people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and displaced residents who survived the Twin Parks North West apartment building fire last January.
The space — which the city hopes to open up for public tours once biohazardous material like asbestos is cleared — is massive. The length of the interior of the armory is the same as three full football fields, and the drill hall stands around 11 stories tall. It’s roughly the size of Madison Square Garden.
“It is an immense space and that means it presents immense opportunities,” said Fernando Ortiz, the upper Manhattan and Bronx borough director for the EDC.
The renovation project, which was first announced in August, is now in its six-month community engagement period. Ortiz said EDC officials are working on a vision plan for the project and expect to release a request for proposals in the fall — which will be used to request approval and funding from city, state and federal entities.
During this stage, he said, is when Bronxites get to float their ideas to officials and agencies in charge of financing and spearheading renovation efforts. Ortiz said the borough has been active in the process for years, even with two recent unsuccessful developments — a proposal to turn the armory into a mall in 2006 and then a multi-purpose ice center in 2012.
“It has been vacant for 30 years, but that does not mean that there has not been community involvement, community advocacy and community leadership around this process,” Ortiz said Thursday.
The EDC has been holding different focus group meetings, as well as one public workshop. The Kingsbridge Armory Community Working Group meets once a month to provide feedback and input about engagement, facilitation and messaging.
From those sessions the department has already hosted, Ortiz said his team has compiled a list of community values that they want incorporated into a new Kingsbridge Armory. Those include togetherness, collective economy, work ethic and working class values, diversity, resilience, family, kindness and education.
The Kingsbridge Armory has already been granted $5 million for remediation efforts, and Sanchez said the governor’s office has committed to budgeting $100 million for the project.
The councilmember — while she emphasized the process could take up to 10 years — said community input is crucial at this stage, and encouraged people to make their voices heard at different meetings and workshops in the future.
“You never finish something that you don’t start,” Sanchez said. “We’re here now and it’s our responsibility to do something for the next generation.”
The next public workshop regarding the Kingsbridge Armory will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on Jan. 21 at the P.S. 340 annex.
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes