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Hockey Legend Messier Talks Bronx

Crain’s New York
October 25, 2013
By Daniel Geiger

Mark Messier, the hockey Hall of Famer who was immortalized in New York sports lore for captaining the Rangers to a Stanley Cup in 1994, has entered the realm of big-city real estate development. In September, Mr. Messier was named the head of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center, a group that was selected by the city earlier this year to redevelop the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory into a vast, nine-rink ice-sport facility.

Mr. Messier stepped down from the Rangers as a special assistant to the organization’s president to take the position and oversee the construction and operation of the nearly $300 million project, which will introduce ice sports on a scale never before seen in the city.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THIS PROJECT?

We were originally going to do a twin rink in Queens. And we were talking to the city and they said, “You might want to check this building out,” and we were like, “Wow, this is more than we were thinking, but let’s do some research and figure out what could happen here.”

It’s more than an ice rink. It’s an opportunity to create something world-renowned in a landmark building that millions of people are going to pass through each year and rejuvenate the Bronx in a way that hasn’t been done since 1923, when Yankee Stadium was built.

IS THERE REALLY ENOUGH DEMAND IN THE BRONX FOR NINE SKATING RINKS?

I think that’s a fair question, but the answer is they haven’t [skated] because they can’t, and I can assure you, once given the opportunity, they will. We don’t have the ice facilities to accommodate the people we have in this city. The national average is one sheet [of ice] per 100,000 people, and we have one sheet per 1.2 million people. We’ll also draw from New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut.

That’s part of the economic benefit that the borough will be rewarded with. They’re going to come in, and they’re going to be staying overnight. This restaurant is a perfect example of the kind of business that will thrive with the traffic coming through here.

A PLAN TO DEVELOP THE ARMORY IN 2009 WAS REJECTED OVER LIVING-WAGE ISSUES. HOW DID YOUR GROUP GET AROUND THAT ROADBLOCK?

We’re here to enhance the community; 51% of the jobs will be for people in the area. It’s jobs, kids and community, and that’s the focus. I wouldn’t want to be in their neighborhood, in their business district, in their armory, unless they welcomed us. I believe in good energy.

WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITIES AND SPORTS WILL BE HERE?

We’re going to have synchronized ice dancing, sled hockey, figure skating, curling. All the ice sports. What we have done with the community is give them 50,000 square feet of community space on top of the nine rinks and $8 million to develop whatever they want.

IS THIS GOING TO BE YOUR FULL-TIME GIG FOR A WHILE?

I really believe in the project. I gave up a career in the NHL. Hockey is exciting, but this presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

WHEN DOES THIS PROJECT GET APPROVED AND WHEN WILL IT OPEN?

The idea is to get approvals, hopefully by the end of the year. We’ll finish the architecture and planning next year, and we are going to be open for business by 2017 and possibly earlier.

DO YOU LIKE REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT?

I was buying and selling homes back through the 1990s and early 2000s. I loved it. I was still playing, and the economy was moving. [Kingsbridge] is that on a super-big scale. It’s one of the most interesting projects in the city right now.

DO YOU THINK THIS FACILITY WILL PRODUCE AN NHL PLAYER EVENTUALLY?

One thousand percent. I could assure you that someone who starts at the grassroots level here will come out eventually. That’s not if, that’s just when.

 

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