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Mayor Bloomberg’s Team Must Make the Right Choice for Kingsbridge Armory Development

NY Daily News
September 24, 2012

City Hall is about to choose — or not — a developer who commits to turning the cavernous Kingsbridge Armory from a white elephant into an asset.

Mayor Bloomberg has been presented with two proposals — neither of them as bankable as the retail mall shot down three years ago by the misfeasance of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz and the City Council.

That $300 million plan, which included the creation of 1,000 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent positions, was an all but certain business proposition. Its potential replacements require leaps of faith.

While Diaz is desperate to recover from the blunder of killing the mall deal, Bloomberg and Economic Development Corp. President Seth Pinsky must refrain from handing over the armory for development until they have high confidence of long-term, roaring success.

The building is a sprawling hulk that has 110-foot-high ceilings and covers almost 5 acres. One contender would fill it with the world’s largest indoor ice sports center, complete with nine rinks. The other envisions a variety of enterprises, including a 4-D movie theater, a market for artisans and food vendors, a hip hop museum and sports facilities.

Gauging the merits is an exercise in guesswork.

A partnership headed by former Wall Streeter Kevin Parker is backing the Kingsbridge National Ice Center. Ex-Rangers star Mark Messier and Olympic figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes are on the team.

The plan calls for investing $275 million to create a skating facility that would tap what the sponsors say is a huge unmet demand for ice time from professional, school and college hockey teams, as well as youth and adult recreational leagues.

The partnership says the demand will mean at least 2 million visitors a year — and enough revenue to finance construction and operating costs through rink, locker and equipment rentals, ticket sales to events, parking and other sources.

Parker’s group also promises to establish a nonprofit organization that would raise donations to create a skating and hockey program for Bronx kids, modeled after a successful one started for inner-city youth in Philadelphia by Ed Snider, owner of the Flyers.

The second proposal, called Mercado Mirabo, is the brainchild of developer Young Woo, whose theory is that two midsize retail anchors, a movie multiplex including the city’s first 4-D equipped theater and a Crunch gym will support his $100 million construction plan.

Beyond that, Woo would rent small pieces of the armory floor to entrepreneurs who would sell their own wares, such as designer clothing, jewelry, and arts and crafts. Similar expos have been popular in the Meatpacking District, at the DeKalb Market in Brooklyn and at the Union Square holiday market.

Woo also sees potential revenue in wall-climbing and in offering work space to startup entrepreneurs. What works would stay, what doesn’t would be replaced.

In concept, bringing an ice sports mecca to the city is the more attractive of the proposals. But the question for Bloomberg and Pinsky is whether either proposal would be self-sustaining. The Bronx must not suffer another epic failure.