Kingsbridge Armory to Become the World's Largest Indoor Ice Center

By Patrick Wall on April 23, 2013 1:10pm 

KINGSBRIDGE HEIGHTS — The birthplace of hip-hop and home of the Yankees will soon hold another honorary title — global ice-skating mecca — now that the gargantuan Kingsbridge Armory is to be transformed into the world’s largest indoor ice-sports center, officials announced Tuesday.

Kingsbridge National Ice Center Partners LLC will spend $275 million to install nine year-round ice rinks, including one with seats for 5,000 spectators, inside the Armory, for which the developer signed a 99-year lease, officials said.

The 750,000-square-foot complex will also include 50,000 square feet of community space, a wellness center and business incubator, free ice skating and tutoring for children and nearly 270 permanent jobs that pay at least $10 an hour with benefits, they added.

The deal will “transform this historic landmark into a symbol of renewal,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, adding that the plans “send a clear message that the ongoing Bronx revitalization is moving straight ahead.”

Kevin Parker, founder of KNIC Partners LLC, noted that the city has only seven full-time ice rinks for its 8.3 million residents — far fewer than the national rink-per-person average — and that The Bronx has no year-round rinks.

Roughly 20 local schools and sports programs have already requested ice time and the National Hockey League said visiting teams could practice there, Parker added.

“There is so much unmet demand for ice in New York City that I predict we will be sold out before we even open,” he said.

City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, whose blessing will be sought as the project now moves through a mandatory land-use review process, said the complex will “become the Yankee Stadium of ice skating.”

“This is an epic moment in the history of The Bronx,” he added.

The deal comes more than a year after the city sought proposals to redevelop the Armory, which has sat vacant since 1996.

And it follows a failed 2009 bid to turn the building into a mall that was scuttled when the developer refused to require so-called living wages at the site, which was a key demand of community groups and some Bronx elected officials, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Last summer, Diaz announced his support for the ice-rink plan, citing the developer’s wage promise.

“This project will provide hundreds of living wage jobs,” Diaz said to applause at Tuesday’s announcement. “In short, this is a great day for The Bronx.”

The living-wage guarantee is part of a package of community benefits that the developer agreed to in a written deal signed with some 30 local groups last week.

“We said right from the beginning that we can’t put a moat around this place and be an island in the middle of the community,” said Parker of KNIC Partners LLC.

The community benefits agreement, which the two sides spent the past four months hashing out, should become a national model, said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a board member of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, the local group that headed the negotiations.

“I think we’ve got the strongest CBA in the country,” she said, adding that the 50,000 square feet of community space will house a small-business incubator, nonprofit offices and other sports facilities.

The city chose the ice center over several other proposals, including another frontrunner, called Mercado Mirabo, a shopping and entertainment complex centered on a two-acre indoor piazza.

Though the marketplace developer promised as many living-wage jobs as the ice-center developer, some Bronx merchants and officials, including Diaz, worried its stores would siphon off customers from the neighborhood.

Locals have long called for a school at the site to relieve nearby overcrowding.

Parker noted Tuesday that the original ice-center plan called for a sports-themed school adjacent to the Armory. He said the state currently controls that property, but that his firm would seek clearance to eventually build a school there.

The developer will not receive city financing or tax breaks, but will pay a "nominal base rent," according to Seth Pinsky, president of the city's Economic Development Corporation.

Two years after construction of the complex, KNIC Partners LLC will have the option to buy the building, he added.

After the plan secures official approval through the review process, groundbreaking is slated for 2014. Construction will proceed in two phases, with five ice rinks, the community space, concessions and parking planned for completion by fall of 2018.

The following year, four more rinks will open on two platforms raised about 40 feet above the Armory’s 180,000-square-foot main floor.

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