When there’s any chatter about the future of the Kingsbridge Armory — where activity has been dormant since 1996 despite ill-fated plans to turn the landmark armory into a shopping mall and ice rink fell through in the following decades — residents in the west Bronx corridor are filled with intrigue.
Fordham Councilmember Pierina Sanchez — whose district includes the long-dormant armory — received $5 million in council funds from Speaker Adrienne Adams for renovations to the historic property with an eye toward future repurposing.
Spending will also be used for a site check to inspect the centuries-old building.
Sanchez, along with other Bronx officials including Adams, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and state Senator Gustavo Rivera plan to hold a late-September press conference — initially scheduled for Wednesday — to lay out a “multimillion-dollar investment and community visioning process” for future redevelopment of the site.
In March, the New York State Office of General Service announced a $10 million renovation to revamp two annexed buildings for military use on the site.
Kingsbridge residents, however, have heard a similar song and dance from city officials hoping to repurpose the Armory, a defining feature of the area, as the 520,000-square-foot armory — believed to be the largest armory of its kind in the world — dominates space on Jerome Avenue and West Kingsbridge Road.
“It peeks out at you when you get off the train station and I think it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the city,” said Lisa Thomas, a Kingsbridge resident. “But for some reason that whatever is planned for its new life, they never end up panning out, so it just seems like it’s going to sit there despite it offering so much potential.”
The Armory’s trademark brickwork and green roofs have shadowed the nearby Kingsbridge train station ever since construction on the building finished in 1917. It was originally built to house a regiment of the New York National Guard, and is a registered landmark at the city, state and national levels.
In the years since the armory opened, it has been utilized as a training ground for 10,000 troops during World War II as well as a temporary home for United Nations diplomats before the organization’s current Midtown building was completed in 1952. It also hosted a few boxing matches and film productions.
When the armory’s military use ended and thus transferred to city management in 1996, so did activity in the building.
In 2009, then Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., along with local advocates, opposed a proposal to turn the armory into a shopping mall projected to bring 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs.
City officials wanted the developer to commit to a $10 an hour wage for mall employees, instead of the $7.25 minimum wage at the time. The City Council ultimately killed the deal over the low wages, then overrode former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto, who warned the building would remain empty for years.
Bloomberg’s warning became a sign of things to come as subsequent plans for a proposed Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC), which would have become the world’s largest ice-skating facility, fell through when the state Supreme Court said lead developers did not meet financing deadlines in 2016.
Diaz Jr. blamed the downfall of the ice center on the “ineptitude” of the developer, saying he didn’t capitalize while “all of the governmental and political stars aligned” in an unprecedented show of unity to repurpose the facility.
“I got my butt kicked,” Diaz Jr. said of criticism over the building sitting empty in a January 2021 interview with the Bronx Times.
The state had even committed $138 million to the ice rink project, with $108 million in the form of a loan to cover some of KNIC’s development costs. However, local officials familiar with the project told the Bronx Times then Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul intended to keep that loan in place for a future redevelopment project. The other $30 million was dedicated for pre-development costs.
New York Supreme Court Judge Ruben Franco dismissed a subsequent lawsuit by Kingsbridge National Ice Center, a development company spearheaded by New York Rangers legend Mark Messier, alleging breach of contract against the NYC Economic Development Corporation for failing to turn over the property’s lease to the developers so they could acquire financing.
Redevelopment of the property has always been a priority item for the section’s Councilmember Pierina Sanchez — she took office in January. And the local community board, CB7, recently opened the door for resident input in February.
But each start-stop conversation on how to proceed with property seems to draw residential apathy.
“It’s one of those topics that doesn’t die because people want to see it return to a good in the community,” said one CB7 board member. “It can be anything from a space where we can resource the community and city to a recreational space, there are options, but I think residents are tired of plans and promises not coming to fruition.”
When reached, Gibson and Rivera both referred the Bronx Times to Sanchez for comment.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes