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Community Group Inks Deal With Kingsbridge Armory Ice Rink Developer

By Patrick Wall | April 19, 2013 5:08pm
 A rendering of the exterior of the proposed Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which would install nine full-sized hockey rinks inside the historic Kingsbridge Armory. Some believe the city will soon select this proposal.
A rendering of the exterior of the proposed Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which would install nine full-sized hockey rinks inside the historic Kingsbridge Armory. Some believe the city will soon select this proposal.
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Kingsbridge National Ice Center

KINGSBRIDGE HEIGHTS — A Bronx community group said Friday that it and nearly 30 others have signed an “unprecedented” agreement with a developer to guarantee that a plan to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a major ice-sports center would benefit the local community.

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which has long championed the redevelopment of the vacant fortress, said it signed a community benefits agreement with the would-be developer, Kingsbridge National Ice Center Partners.

While the city’s Economic Development Corporation said Friday it had not yet officially selected a developer, a source with knowledge of the selection process said the city is expected to announce its pick on Monday, adding that Kingsbridge National Ice Center Partners is the front-runner.

The city is mulling several bids from developers to transform the vacant Armory, a 575,000 square-foot colossus.

A spokesman for KNIC Partners, whose proposal seeks to turn the space into a nine-rink ice center, did not respond to messages Friday.

The benefits agreement includes promises of “wall-to-wall” living-wage jobs for armory workers, local hiring and procurement, green building practices, 50,000 square-feet of community space, a business incubator for local entrepreneurs and free ice skating for students, according to a statement released by the coalition.

“This community benefits agreement is substantial and represents many years of hard work and determination around the Kingsbridge Armory,” coalition president Sandra Lobo-Jost said in the statement. “It will ensure that the needs of local residents are at the forefront.”

The ice center is one of two leading redevelopment proposals.

The other is a mixed-use market and entertainment complex dubbed Mercado Mirabo, designed by developer Youngwoo & Associates.

Adam Zucker, Youngwoo’s director of business development, said that his company met with the coalition last year and negotiated a “letter of intent” that offered a community benefits package comparable to the one announced Friday.

“We were at the table and remain at the table making exactly the same promises that the KNIC group offered to the community,” Zucker said.

But that offer was never formally accepted and the community coalition appears to have shifted its focus to negotiations with the ice-center developer — perhaps, because that proposal has attracted some high-profile support that would appear to up its odds of approval.

In August, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and several other Bronx elected officials said they backed the ice-center, citing several factors, including the developer’s living-wage guarantee and concern among some local merchants that the marketplace plan would siphon off customers.

The community coalition and its offshoot, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, has advocated for years for a new use of the armory that would reflect the vision of residents, not just the developer.

During the previous effort to redevelop the armory, in 2009, KARA spearheaded a campaign to demand living wages at the site. Diaz and others backed the wage demand and, when the developer balked, City Council voted down the project.

Gavin Kearney, an attorney with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said it made strategic sense now for the coalition to push for a benefits agreement early, since any project still requires community approval.

“Once the developer gets the approval they need,” during the official review process, Kearney said, “the leverage the community has is significantly diminished.”

The coalition’s announcement that it had signed an agreement with the developer appeared to catch many off guard Friday.

Representatives for the developer, the borough president, the city and the local community board either did not reply to inquiries or did not have responses prepared.

“I don’t know what agreement they’re talking about,” said Paul Foster, chairman of Community Board 7, which has participated in the negotiations with the developer and will play a role in the official land-use review process, called ULURP.

“I’m more surprised more than you,” Foster added Friday.