In today’s State Of The City Address, New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (who wanted to play lacrosse at Hopkins back in the day), is expected to announce a new opportunity for the development of the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure some would hope that it will end up being just another mall, but there is the chance to do something GREAT here, and it has everything to do with sports and being active.
Development of the Armory failed last time around as the City Council voted the project down. Their reasoning was that it did not have a minimum living wage requirement for the jobs created, and therefore was not in the best interests of the community. The plan last time (2010) was for a massive mall and shopping center. The project was slated to create low-wage retail jobs but couldn’t get past the community approval process, and was killed in the Council chamber by vote.
But is more retail really what NYC needs anyway? Isn’t that sort of a simplistic answer to development? And doesn’t Retail supposedly follow other development? Does the Bronx really need more heavy commercial development in an area with high vehicle traffic and little parking already? Or could the Bronx use something else? And would the residents of the community benefit more from a different plan?
I think they certainly might, and I have a way for the City to make it happen.
Green space is at an absolute premium in the City of New York. There is a lack of open space for kids to play, and there is ALWAYS an extreme shortage of field space for local sports teams. Everyone from youth to high school to adults needs more space to play, and the City itself has even mentioned that this is a top concern.
Don’t think there would be enough space inside the Armory for a bunch of fields?
In one of the City’s reports it is even mentioned that, “in recent years, the Bronx has been the New York City borough with the highest overall rates of asthma hospitalizations, deaths and prevalence among children as well as adults”. Wow. That is enough to convince me another shopping center might not be the best option!
So why not take the Armory and turn it into an indoors sportsplex? Put basketball courts, soccer fields, a track, tennis courts and more ALL inside of the building and get the community moving!!!!! The Bronx NEEDS space like this, and kids along with adults NEED more space to play, run and exercise. By putting the space indoors, the City would guarantee that residents would have access to exercise space year round, and in any weather. Another big issue facing the Bronx is obesity, and I can’t think of a much better program to combat that problem than a sports complex for borough residents.
A final problem in the Bronx that I will mention is violence and crime. Statistically, the crime rate hasn’t climbed dramatically, but it was never great to begin with. If you can get kids off the street, and onto the fields, this problem can be addressed. And while the responsibility to get kids active rests with parents and family, if there isn’t even a place for the kids to be active, what choices do they really have? A facility like this would do a lot towards giving the community a tool to address its own issues.
And then one starts to think about the secondary benefits of a sports complex at the Armory, and the picture only gets brighter. First off, a sports complex needs staff and managers. So there are jobs right there. But local sports leagues also need managers, and refs, and coaches. There are more jobs right there. And then you think about all the local teams that could start up and the jobs just keep rolling. Would a sports complex help local retailers in the area that already exist? You bet it would. Could a sports complex draw in even more natural local development of the area? Yes. Without a doubt.
Now I understand how the argument that can be made for simply more retail. Poverty and unemployment are also huge problems in the Bronx, and approximately 1,000 jobs would certainly help the local community on some level. But the developers are never going to accept a living wage provision because they can’t make a high enough return on the project. And the local community still seems very opposed to a plan without a living wage requirement. So it seems like retail is sort of a dead end, and a divisive issue. Retail is also something that has been used before to “change” neighborhoods, but does that really work? Most examples point to no. It’s a one-time boost that relies heavily on government subsidy.
But a sports complex does not possess these detracting issues. And if we’re going to apply a government subsidy to something, it probably shouldn’t be malls. I mean, come on!!!! When will the handouts to big companies cease?!?!?! Ok, back to the solution…
Fields can be rented out to teams for good money in New York City, so by renting out some of the fields, and keeping others for use by the Bronx community, the center could pay for itself. The City found ways to help the Yankees finance their new stadium a couple of years back, so they should be able to do the same here, especially if they stay involved in the project and share in the profits.
The Armory could easily become just another retail mall in NYC, but that would only add to Bloomberg’s legacy as a friend of the Real Estate Development Community. Or, it could mark the end of his final term with a community building project that could help a long overlooked community be happier, healthier, and even provide jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurship, and not just those of the low-wage variety.