Friday, January 10, 2020

Long Awaited Armory Conversion to Begin in Crown Heights

Two years after receiving City Council approval, a plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights will finally begin to materialize, as construction launches for the site’s conversion from a 20th-century cavalry base into an expansive recreation center.

The city-owned armory, bounded by Bedford and Rogers Avenues and Union and President Streets in Crown Heights, is in the midst of a transformation by developer BFC Partners and the NYC Economic Development Corporation after years of sitting vacant. 

The more than century-old castellated hall, which once hosted horse stables, a firing range, and administrative offices for cavalry troops, will soon be repurposed with several sports fields, a swimming pool, and space for local non-profits and civic groups.

Ultimately, the armory is intended as a nexus for the neighborhood, as it works to meet the area’s dearth of recreational spaces while preserving the neighborhood’s history and diverse cultural legacy.

“The community has been living with this building for decades, and to be able to bring it to fruition, we want it to be not just about the future but also have it acknowledge the history and culture of this community,” says James Patchett, the CEO of NYC’s Economic Development Corporation

Under the redevelopment plan, the project will also include 415 rental apartments—250 of which will rent at below market rate—in a pair of 8- and 15-story buildings adjacent to the armory. 

Initial plans called for 60 luxury condominiums, but officials scrapped those after fierce community pushback. New York City will retain ownership of the armory under a long-term lease.

Excavation and demolition has recently wrapped up at the site; now, the work of actually building out the armory will be commencing. 

Within the next six months, crews will carve out a space for the six-lane swimming pool and begin laying down sub-flooring. 

A smoked-glass wall will separate the pool from the main space, which will include a synthetic turf multi-sports field, three hardwood basketball courts, and bleachers throughout.

Individual organizations will operate each component: Imagine Swimming will run the pool, Globall Sports will operate the multi-purpose field, and New Heights Youth will oversee the basketball courts. Groups such as these will offer an array of athletic and academic programming. Ten organizations have signed leases—at $6 a square foot—for space in the armory, and that number could eventually triple.

The main floor also features a sort of all purpose gathering space that is expected to serve as an arts venue for film screenings, performances, and gallery space; Brooklyn Community Board 9 has expressed interest in hosting meetings there. 

Down the hall, there will be a public cafe, which currently features the remnants of a floor to ceiling fire place adorned with a painted-gold lion head.

Of what can be salvaged, BFC says it plans to preserve 80 percent of the armory’s architectural details. Those will either be revitalized or worked back into the design elsewhere. 

Nearly 100 wooden bleachers that date back to the early 1900s, for instance, will be restored and used in the rooftop gardens of the residential buildings. And salvaged brick is being re-laid in its original herringbone pattern to help divide five dance studios on the second floor, which will be run by Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy.

The revamped armory is expected to open in November 2020. The 8- and 15-story residential buildings are expected to respectively wrap up in April 2021 and April 2022.