By Perla Tolentino
After more than five years of discussions, the monumental Kingsbridge Armory will soon be drastically transformed, and many locals worry they will be on the losing end of the deal.
Built in 1910, the Eighth Regiment Armory has not been militarily active since 1996. Since then however, it has been serving the community as a city management office, and has also welcomed Lehman for special events, conferences, and even served as an arena for concerts. According to The Riverdale Press, soon it will be opening its door to the sports community, holding national games and many other sporting events. The former captain of the New York Rangers, Mark Messier, is the head of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center and is attempting to replace the 750,000 square-foot historical armory with the largest ice rink facility in the world.
The project is the main topic at monthly Kingsbridge Small Business meetings attended by many local residents and small business owners in the area. Mohamed Ali, owner of Grocery Candy Stop 1, said he attended a recent meeting in early March and received flyers from the Commercial Lease Assistant Program. “It’s really happening this time,” he said.
Small business owners around the armory fear they will be pushed out due to rent increases that will occur if this project is finalized. Patrick Lim, 32, has already lost one store to rent hikes. Lim owns a vegetable market with his father in front of the south part of the armory, with a current long-term lease of ten years. Originally, they owned two, with the second store located close to the diner on the north side. Lim said that when they were trying to renew the lease, the landlords refused to give them a long-term contract, and also increased their rent. Their lack of willingness to negotiate forced Lim and his father to close the second store.
“All owners across the armory are operating their businesses without a lease contract, they can ask them to leave any minute now,” said Lim. He also told the Meridian he has also been receiving project newsletters regarding the new project. After closing the mini-market he said some of his employees were let go.
Yamilet Castillo, who works at the local barber shop, echoed Lim’s concerns. She claims that the shop’s rent has doubled, and fears rents will continue to increase, eventually forcing it to shut down.
Some residents and business owners, however, were more skeptical about the project’s chances of being completed and stated that the rumors are just speculations. Jenny Vangelatos, owner of New Capitol Restaurant located on the corner of Kingsbridge and Jerome Avenues, was not as alarmed as other business owners. “I have been attending community meetings on a monthly basis and I have heard of this situation since 2014, but it’s not happening yet,” she said. Vangelatos refused to comment on high rent issues.
The project has been delayed by numerous issues. The New York Post announced in 2017 that Messier and the project’s founder Kevin Parker were denied entry to the historical army house because of a lawsuit between the developers and city officials. Apparently, the city is requesting proof of sufficient funds for the project. The paper also stated that Mayor de Blasio was supporting the project.
Many residents are now beginning to believe the rumors may be true. If the project takes place, Kingsbridge will be a center of attraction for many tourists and visitors from around the U.S., but residents will also be forced to pay higher rents and the neighborhood will become gentrified.
In the meantime, according to Sergeant Ramirez of the New York National Guard, the Kingsbridge Armory remains open with activities such as the National Guard Army program. Regardless of the outcome of this project, the armory will remain a cornerstone of the Kingsbridge community and the Bronx.