City picks ice rink for armory

Long on ice waiting for a developer, the Kingsbridge Armory is about to get one.

After more than a decade of failed deals that resulted in a massive castle sitting empty, the city has finally picked a developer to repurpose the landmark building, officials close to the development project said Friday.

The NYC Economic Development Corp. is expected to announce shortly that it has chosen the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, long considered the favorite in a redevelopment bid, to bring nine ice skating rinks, a 5,000-seat concert hall and in-house parking to the armory.

The deal comes just a day after KNIC agreed to sign a community benefits agreement with a cadre of clergy members, local business owners and community leaders.

It’s still unclear whether the agreement is legally binding, or would be accepted by the EDC. But if enacted, it would be the first such agreement between a city project and a community.

The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a sub-group of the special interest Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, sat at the negotiating table since February, hammering out a deal with KNIC initially valued at $20 million.

“This Community Benefits Agreement is substantial and represents many years of hard work and determination around the Kingsbridge Armory,” said Sandra Lobo-Jost, president of NWBCCC. “It will ensure that the needs of local residents are at the forefront.”
Financial details of the CBA were not initially disclosed, but members said community space, one of the key concessions requested by NWBCCC, will be a part of the CBA deal for the 50,000-square-feet inside the dormant fortress.

Other agreed upon stipulations include local hiring, jobs for minority-and women-owned businesses, free ice time for Title I schools, local procurement, sustainable green development and operation, and a business incubator.

Local businesses backed the ice rink idea from the beginning since they believed it would not steer customers away from smaller retail operations into a rival proposed marketplace-style project dubbed Mercado Mirabo by Young Woo & Associates.

Bill Sloan, owner of the neighborhood Morton Williams supermarket and a major opponent of Mercado Mirabo, was glad to see the CBA agreed upon by both parties.

“The redevelopment of the Armory will certainly be an economic engine for our community, a win-win that all should support,” he said.
Another key commitment made by KNIC was the promise of a $10 living wage, a key hurdle crossed by KNIC well before negotiations began.

It was the living wage deal demanded by KARA that collapsed 2009 talks between the community and The Related Co. to build a mall inside the Armory in 2009.

The agreement now signals welcome relief for the Kingsbridge community, long hoping for a resolution to a project that teetered on collapse.

Much of the wait stemmed from city officials banking on KNIC to sign a CBA, according to sources. Once the CBA had been inked then the city could move forward in publically supporting the project.

Other hurdles still remain, however, including the slow Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, backing from local Community Board 7, and finally a vote by the City Council, where local Councilman Fernando Cabrera will play a key role.

While Cabrera has remained largely neutral on the issue, several elected officials representing the area have publically endorsed the project including Sen. Gustavo Rivera, Councilman Oliver Koppell, and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., arguably the biggest supporter.

David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383

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