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Plan for Ice Center in Bronx Armory Moves Forward

New York Times
April 23, 2013
By Winnie Hu

The Kingsbridge Armory towers over the northwest Bronx, a massive empty shell that has long defied redevelopment efforts and haunted generations of city leaders.

Now, this enduring symbol of the Bronx’s stalled ambitions has once again become the focus of a campaign to bring much-needed jobs and economic revival to the borough. Standing inside the armory’s frosty interior on Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Bronx officials announced that they had reached an agreement with a developer to transform the city-owned building into what they called the world’s largest indoor ice sports center.

The agreement, which still requires the approval of the City Council, calls for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center to open inside the existing armory building in 2018. The 750,000-square-foot center would eventually house nine regulation-size ice rinks for skating and hockey — including a 5,000-seat arena. (The developer said the current largest ice sports center was in Minnesota.)

The center is expected to create 267 permanent jobs and 890 temporary construction jobs, according to city officials.

The new center would be paid for entirely with $275 million in private money invested by KNIC Partners, a development group founded by Kevin Parker, a former Wall Street executive. KNIC Partners will pay the city $1 a year to lease the armory, as well as 5 percent of its annual gross revenue, which city officials estimate will be about $1 million. Two years after the project is completed, the developer will be given an option to buy the armory and the land at market price.

“The road wasn’t easy, no major development project ever is,” said Mayor Bloomberg, who was flanked by the former New York Rangers star Mark Messier and the Olympic figure skater Sarah Hughes. “But the alternative — not reaching an agreement and allowing this armory to remain empty and stand as a symbol of the abandonment that once plagued the Bronx — was simply unthinkable.”

The ice center plan is the latest in a series of proposals to redevelop the armory, which was completed in 1917 and was once used for war efforts. The city has spent about $30 million to clean up environmental contamination, replace the roof and repair the building’s facade.

In 2000, Rudolph W. Giuliani, then the mayor, proposed turning the armory into an entertainment, sports and retail complex, but that never materialized. In 2009, a proposal to turn the armory into a shopping mall pitted the Bloomberg administration against Bronx officials and residents who feared that it would promote low-paying jobs and compete with local merchants. The collapse of that proposal soured relations between the mayor and the Bronx borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., and helped set off a citywide campaign for living-wage legislation that was adopted by the City Council over the mayor’s veto.

But the ice center is expected to face far less opposition. The mayor said his aides had met repeatedly behind the scenes with Mr. Diaz and other Bronx elected officials to coordinate efforts to redevelop the armory. The city’s Economic Development Corporation selected the ice center over five competing proposals, including an artisanal marketplace and a velodrome.

City lobbying records show that KNIC Partners helped build support for the ice center by paying $197,500 to James F. Capalino & Associates to lobby Mr. Diaz, the mayor’s office and other officials.

John DeSio, a spokesman for Mr. Diaz, said the ice center did not receive special treatment.

Last week, KNIC Partners won community support for the deal by voluntarily signing an agreement with a coalition representing more than 30 groups in the area. The company promised to pay every worker a living wage, which amounts to at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without benefits. It also agreed to give a hiring preference to Bronx residents, devote over 50,000-square-feet in the armory for community use, provide opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses and give free ice time to schools in poor neighborhoods.

But some Bronx residents expressed disappointment and skepticism over the armory’s planned transformation into an ice center.

“We really need that?” said James Hunt, 25, a dishwasher who grew up in the neighborhood. “With all the time they’ve been taking with this, they should have come up with a better idea than an ice rink.”

Nuria Vazquez, 46, a mother of two boys, compared the planned ice center to a charter school that would shower benefits on those fortunate enough to be chosen. “It’s a drop in the bucket,” she said. “You’ll have so many people competing for those jobs, it will be like winning a raffle.”

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