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Skating greats seek to turn armory into ice rink

Skating greats seek to turn armory into ice rink

Crain’s New York 1/31/2012

By Daniel Massey

Hockey star Mark Messier and Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes are among those seeking to turn the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a skating complex. A previous group tried to turn the huge building into a shopping mall.

New York Rangers legend Mark Messier and Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes are part of a group staging a power play to transform the landmark Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a complex with multiple ice rinks and a public school.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center group has been sharpening its proposal for more than two years, but in recent months has begun to court community members in an effort to sell them on their plan. It envisions building a 5,000-seat arena, as many as eight other rinks and a public school.

The group has already assembled a team of powerful consultants, including the Marino Organization and Capalino+Company to provide media, community and government outreach. Last week, Jonathan Richter and John Nolan, investors with a passion for skating, presented their plan to the land use committee of Bronx Community Board 7.

Last week, the two investors who are leading the initiative also traveled to Philadelphia. There they were joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., City Councilman Fernando Cabrera and Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. President Marlene Cintron on a tour of a program run by the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.

The Kingsbridge proposal includes an educational program patterned after a one in Philadelphia started by Mr. Snider, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers. The program uses hockey to teach inner-city children life skills and make them successful students. Mr. Messier, who was captain of the 1994 Stanley Cup Champion Rangers team, will be intimately involved in the educational component of the hockey program. The Kingsbridge plan adds on a figure skating component, which Ms. Hughes, who won a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics, will work on.

“When I first heard ice hockey in the Bronx, there was a question mark in my mind,” said Ms. Cintron, of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. “But when they made their presentation, I ended up with ice hockey in the Bronx with an exclamation point.”

In addition to the school and education programs, the facility would try to draw ice shows and competitions and would serve as a practice facility for schools and professional teams. Skating enthusiasts from around the region, nation and world would be targeted as potential customers. A rink would be open to the public at all times.

“The reality is that a lot of African American and Latinos don’t play hockey because we don’t have anywhere to play,” said Mr. Cabrera. “But accessibility will lead to desirability. What I like about this project is the focus on the programs that will benefit hundreds and hundreds of young people.”

Sources said the Kingsbridge plan would create as many as 300 full-time jobs that pay a living wage of at least $10 an hour, plus benefits; and some 900 temporary construction jobs. The development team would not seek any city subsidies in addition to the 575,000-square-foot armory.

“We are currently working on a proposal for this site which will be a catalyst for jobs and economic activity in the Bronx and support important community and educational initiatives,” said a spokesman for the development team. “Our plan also will maintain the integrity of this historic landmark. While it is premature to discuss any additional details of the proposal at this time, we do look forward to presenting our exciting plan in the near future.”

Some details of the proposal began to emerge last week in the Norwood News, a local community paper in the Bronx. On its surface, the ice center appears to sidestep two problems that emerged with the earlier, controversial proposal by the Related Cos. to build a mall in the armory. Elected officials and labor leaders worried that project would have created low-wage jobs and drawn business away from local stores. That plan was shot down in 2009 by the City Council.

In announcing last month a new solicitation for proposals to redevelop the armory, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city had received interest from numerous potential bidders. Members of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center group were among those who met with city officials.

The request for proposals is similar to one the city issued in September 2006. The previous request, however, spelled out a preference for a mix of commercial, retail, entertainment, recreation and community uses. The new solicitation allows respondents to propose a broader range of uses, although not housing.

“We are looking forward to evaluating all proposals under the criteria outlined in the RFP,” said a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corp.

The ice center is not the only sports facility being talked about for the armory. A group that includes the National Cycling Association wants to submit a plan for an indoor cycling center.
“My focus is a cycling-anchored facility that could also do some other sports activities,” said National Cycling Association CEO Jack Simes.

It remains to be seen whether the city will get another pitch for a shopping center. Related is unlikely to make another bid.