The Navy/Air Force recruiting station at 52 Westchester Square has not kept its word.
More than a month after the storefront promised to become a better neighbor to the community after complaints from residents, its gates remain partly down most of the time, and the site is still sign-less and decrepit.
However, now that a new agreement is in place between the recruitment center and the Army Corps of Engineers, which leases the space, Navy officials are promising once again that the large, metal, security gates will be rolled up and the place will look acceptable to the community.
“As of last week, our recruiters now have a key to control the gates,” said chief petty officer Eric Durie, a public affairs officer for the Navy recruiting district New York. “We addressed the understandable issue about why the gates were down in the first place, and we’ve agreed that the Navy will keep the gates up during the day.”
According to local businessman and member of the Westchester Square business association John Bonizio, the recruitment center has left its gates down and been without a sign for two years. He said the storefront looks abandoned in the center of the Westchester Square business community. Its appearance has made the area look bad and likely deterred customers from shopping on the commercial district. It is a sign of disrespect to the neighborhood.
“It’s just disgusting,” he said. “They act like it’s no big deal, but they wouldn’t do that in Scarsdale. But they think they can come to the Bronx and it’s alright. They show absolutely no respect for the community.”
Although four full-time recruitment officers work at the station, the building is leased through the Army Corps of Engineers, so the officers have no control over the three separate gates, Durie said.
He said after speaking with Community Board 10 district manager Ken Kearns and Army Corps officials the issues will be addressed soon.
Currently the only signage letting passers-by know the facility is a military recruitment station are small posters that adorn the walls inside the store. Durie said by October the Navy/Air Force should be installing a full sign above the door. He said the sign was never installed because of budget restrictions.
“Mr. Kearns expressed to me that the Westchester Square community is pro-military, and they wanted to make sure that the station had the best face it could, and we are working towards that,” he said. “Now that we have the funds for the gate, we’re trying to get it up as soon as possible. We want it up as well, because then the station will look better.”
While some local officials have suggested removing the gates entirely, or installing less offensive ones, Durie said the station needs the gates for security purposes and they will likely continue to keep the gates down at night.
For Bonizio, getting the station to keep its gates rolled completely up during business hours, and getting a sign installed, will be a big win for the community.
“It is important that all merchants and store owners, or any other tenant that has a storefront in Westchester Square, keep it in a manner that is respectful of their neighbors and the rest of the community,” he said. “After two years of waiting, we’re happy to hear that the Navy has finally decided to get on board, and we welcome them into our community.”
Air Force officials did not return calls for comment.