Yet another community-driven movement to reinvest into the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx is underway. The historic landmarked building is one of the few remaining armories in New York City and was considered the largest in North America at the time it was built in 1917.
“Kingsbridge is a vibrantly diverse neighborhood,” said Councilmember Pierina Sanchez. The surrounding community around the armory is made up of middle- and working-class immigrant residents from Latin, Hispanic, Caribbean, and African countries.
“What I’ve been hearing is what we need for the armory to do is to bring economic development, jobs, and opportunities for youth. That can look a lot of different ways which is why we have this process to see what the community wants here,” she continued.
The beautifully bricked building is 180,000 square feet of open space with roughly 120 foot ceilings. It was previously used by the National Guard up until 1994 to store weapons, perform drills, and hold special events like boxing matches and film shoots. Ownership of the space was transferred to the city from New York State in 1996. With the exception of emergencies and the COVID-19 pandemic, where it served as a temporary food distribution center for those in need, the building has mostly sat unused by the community for decades.
The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), along with various electeds over the years, have led a nearly 30 year crusade to have collective and cooperative land ownership of the armory, make the building and reservoir beneath it more sustainable, and have any armory projects benefit local businesses. They fiercely advocate for generating local union jobs with any armory restoration projects and procurement for residents in District 14.
The ‘vision’ meetings and sessions from this past weekend were led by NWBCCC, Sanchez, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). In the coming months, the community engagement process will outline a new vision for the future redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory.
“This is the third go-around,” said Juan Nuñez, lead organizer for the NWBCCC. “One of the times we fought was against Mayor Bloomberg in 2009. He wanted to build a mall here and we pushed back against that because we knew that if you build a mall here those local businesses would have been destroyed.”
NYCEDC Fernando Ortiz said that the EDC has been involved with the previous failed attempts at redeveloping the armory since the ’90s. Despite having community enthusiasm, the last proposal failed because the developer couldn’t find financing to get the project started which led to years of litigation with the development team until February 2022, he said. In February, community leaders jumped at the opportunity to implement a long-held vision for the building.
“I think what makes this attempt different is that this time we’re going with the community first. We want to first build this community vision document that captures what the needs and priorities and values for redevelopment is from the community perspective and then create an RFP that reflects that,” said Ortiz.
Executive Director of NWBCCC Sandra Lobo laments that the Bronx is mostly known for its deficits and its community resources. She believes that community ownership and shared wealth of the armory can begin to turn that tide while staving off predatory real estate development that will push out the community’s long-time low-income tenants. “What we need is a community project that will actually build skills and have the capacity for Bronx residents. Not just in its construction,” said Lobo. “But a workforce of Bronxites that can build their own businesses and worker owned cooperatives that can bring health and wellness into our borough.”
At the large community meeting in the school annex across from the armory, Gibson spoke about her excitement for Bronxites. She said that securing the $100 million in funds specifically for an armory capital project was not easy but she had a lot of support during this year’s budgeting process.
“We talked to the governor’s office,” said Gibson, “and we said we need to make sure this money is not only recommitted but the language is in the budget.”
Gibson added that Speaker Adrienne Adams put in a direct allocation of $5 million in capital funds from the New York City Council. Those funds will address the most immediate hazards facing the armory so that it may be opened to the public during the redevelopment process.
“New Yorkers from every borough deserve community spaces that will open up doors of opportunity and access,” said Adams in a statement. “The redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory represents a unique chance for residents of the Bronx to envision a space that meets their needs. The Council recognized the potential of transforming the armory and invested $5 million in the city budget to fund the remediation process.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1