The Kingsbridge Armory is garnering attention from Washington, with the U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visiting the site with local electeds.
Walsh came to the west Bronx site as part of a workforce development and readiness tour on Friday alongside U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, whose district encompasses the long-vacant armory. The two national representatives were joined by New York State Commissioner of Labor Roberta Reardon, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and councilmembers Pierina Sanchez and Oswald Feliz.
The 180,000-square-foot space was built in 1917, and while it’s been used as a venue for sporadic events like rodeos, horse races, the filming of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the storing of donations for survivors of the Twin Parks North West fire in January, its only long-term use since 1996 has been as the subject of plans that never came to fruition, like an ice rink and shopping mall.
But a revitalization of the site has been on the minds of local elected officials, like Sanchez, a Fordham Progressive whose district encompasses the site. Sanchez was recently granted $5 million in City Council funds for armory renovations, and the Bronx representative has her eyes set on repurposing the space as an economic catalyst with partners at all levels of government.
Pointing to the impact of COVID-19 in the Bronx, Espaillat said the future prospects of the armory can serve as a symbol of moving forward from the pandemic, generating thousands of jobs and lifting up local community organizations and businesses.
“I think it has a national implication of what we can do here, if not international,” he said.
Both Reardon, the state labor commissioner, and Walsh, the national labor secretary, offered their support as New York City embarks on another effort at giving the landmark a use.
Walsh emphasized the importance of job training, workforce development and community benefits as companies express interest in the space. The former Boston mayor said the U.S. Department of Labor will partner with the city and Bronx elected officials to create a workforce training program for whatever ends up in the space, calling the armory “a diamond.”
He said that although some may see the site as “a black hole” that has sat vacant for years, now is the time to repurpose it.
“I’ll do anything I can to be supportive of you here,” Walsh told the Bronx pols. “I mean, it’s a beautiful place.”
Like other officials at the event, Reardon emphasized the need for local residents to be involved in the process of deciding the future of the space.
“This has to be a community decision,” she said. “The people who live here have to tell us what they want in this building, and anything you need from me, I am here.”
And residents want to be included, with community leaders rallying on Aug. 25 in front of the building, calling for the future plans to be environmentally sustainable, ensure fair wage jobs for locals and incorporate cooperative ownership, according to a report by THE CITY.
Speaker Adams said “the sky is the limit” for the armory’s potential for local residents, and that the city is looking forward to bringing great jobs to the community, which she said has been underserved.
Espaillat said the city has engaged community organizations to be involved in the process of determining the future of the space, and that an architectural firm has been selected to assess the building conditions.
Although it’s unclear which opportunities await Bronxites at the armory, the elected officials are hopeful they’re in sight.
“This is a place that is going to be a beacon of hope and opportunity for the next generation,” Gibson said. “For the young adult that is a college graduate that wants to go into different job sectors. This is going to be something filled with great promise and potential and as the Bronx borough president I look forward to working with all of you.”
Referencing prior failed attempts at breathing new life into the armory, Espaillat said that this time, they’re going to make it happen.
Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimesarm