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Bronx Plan Has a Nice Rink to It

Crain’s New York
August 19, 2012

After the City Council rejected a Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment plan because it lacked a “living wage” guarantee for every job, members dropped their demand for such a far-reaching policy. As a result, the mayor’s office sought new proposals for the 650,000-square-foot Bronx building. Two came in, and while they couldn’t be more different, both are promising. The administration’s chosen plan would again be subject to council approval.

One proposal, by developer Young Woo & Associates, would reinvigorate the long-abandoned armory by creating a lively market akin to town squares in Europe and South America. The cavernous indoor space of the century-old building, with its column-free design and 110-foot ceilings, would be kept largely intact. A deck would be built at one end to accommodate two traditional retail tenants and a fitness center. Other components include a basketball arena, a rock-climbing area, arts and cultural programming and incubator space for entrepreneurs. But the “open-air” (yet temperature-controlled) market would be the centerpiece, and would surely draw Bronx residents by the thousands.

The $100 million project would be a bonus for the borough, which has scant retail offerings and nothing quite like the gathering site that Young Woo envisions.

Nonetheless, the market may be an underdog in the armory competition because its rival, a massive ice-skating complex, would sink $275 million into the space and pull in more visitors—and money—from other states and nations.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, pitched by banker Kevin Parker and other businesspeople who love hockey, would feature nine rinks and be the largest ice sports center on the planet. Its economic foundation is that ice time in the city is woefully insufficient to meet the demand of hockey players and figure skaters—to the point where adult hockey leagues pay up to $750 an hour and teenagers skate at 3 a.m. School teams schlep to New Jersey, visiting National Hockey League teams have nowhere in the city to practice, and recreational skaters crowd into private and municipal rinks.

The Kingsbridge complex would serve those customers and also host national and international hockey tournaments and figure-skating events. Its main community component would be a youth hockey program where kids skate for free and get discounted equipment.

Hockey and figure skating might seem less appealing to Bronx residents than a mixed-use project with a market and fun amenities, but the ice-rink complex would add more to the city economy. That should give it an edge when the Bloomberg administration makes its choice later this year.