Kingsbridge Armory Developers Face Pointed Questions at Town Hall

By Patrick Wall on October 12, 2012 10:10am 

KINGSBRIDGE HEIGHTS — After months of peddling their plans to city officials and the media, the two developers vying to transform the Kingsbridge Armory pitched their starkly different visions directly to the public Thursday — a bustling marketplace and entertainment complex on the one hand, versus a massive ice sports center and school on the other.

At the forum inside a packed gym at Monroe College, both would-be redevelopers clicked through slideshows and videos as they promised a bonanza of jobs, visitors and prestige for the community, all without elbowing out local merchants or charging the public a dime, they said.

The developers also submitted to a slew of sharp questions, ranging from wages and prices to zoning restrictions and benefits agreements, from a crowd who only three years ago watched another hopeful armory developer come and go.

Youngwoo & Associates, the developers behind the marketplace proposal, called Mercado Mirabo, presented their plan for the long-vacant 575,000 square-foot colossus first, calling it “a town square for The Bronx.”

Centered around a more than two-acre piazza that would host events, sports and a weekend bazaar, the complex would include a giant climbing wall, a multiplex, a hip-hop museum, a Crunch gym, anchor stores, offices for startup companies and community space. The 200 vendor booths in the weekend market would rent for $60 a day.

“You can come to play, eat and enjoy,” said the firm’s founder, Young Woo. “And you can open a shop here to make your dream come true.”

The complex could create about 930 permanent on-site jobs, draw more than 1 million annual visitors and generate $180.3 million in yearly economic activity for the city, according to a study commissioned by the firm.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, or KNIC, would sport nine ice rinks, making it the largest such facility in the world, according to Jonathan Richter, president of KNIC Partners, the developers.

The center would run a free tutoring and hockey program for young people and offer low-cost skating and free community space to locals.

A proposed sports-themed public school would sit on an adjacent lot. However, that space is currently occupied by the National Guard and is not zoned for construction, meaning that its purchase would require a separate bidding process that would happen well after the armory development.

“We may have some of the world’s greatest figure skaters and ice-hockey players here in our backyard,” Richter told the crowd. “If they had the opportunity to get on the ice, it could transform the game.”

The center could create 170 permanent on-site jobs, attract 2 million annual visitors and spur $88 million in yearly economic activity for the city, according to a study commissioned by the developer.

During the town hall portion of the forum, a stream of speakers picked apart the developers’ promises.

“A big box store would compete with us and put us out of business,” William Sloan, an owner of Morton Williams Supermarkets, said to the marketplace developers.

A representative of a local merchants group later said that a survey of 185 area business owners showed 115 supported the ice rink, while only 15 backed the marketplace.

Young Woo, the marketplace developer, said the complex would not allow box stores and would not compete with local businesses.

Several people pressed the ice rink developers about their commitment to building the school, the center’s impact on the environment and whether its millions of visitors would open their wallets off the ice.

“KNIC wants to build a destination project,” Alice McIntosh, a leader of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, a community coalition, said after the event. “You come to do what you want to do that day and you leave” — without spending money locally, she said.

Others asked about wages, the major sticking point in the scuttled 2009 redevelopment plan.

Both firms this year guaranteed at least 170 permanent on-site jobs that pay a so-called living wage, though Youngwoo & Associates said they will not set wage requirements for all their tenants.

Many pushed the developers to sign enforceable agreements that would spell out their commitments to the community, but each firm suggested its plan already builds in such guarantees.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation will choose an armory redevelopment plan by the end of the year, which must then go through the city’s lengthy land-use review process. That process ends with a vote in city council, where members usually defer to the will of the local representative — in this case, Councilman Fernando Cabrera.

Cabrera said Thursday that after considering each project’s viability, as well as the jobs and youth programs each would create, they both seemed promising.

But he added that he would work with the city to see that this project does not end up like others in The Bronx, which “promise the world, but could not deliver and end up to be a lemon.”

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