By Matthew Taub
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief
A community forum concerning redevelopment of the Crown Heights Armory Tuesday evening brought forth numerous ideas from local residents, as well as a petition of demands that developers would be forced to meet in exchange for permission to take control of the area. Based on an explanation from officials as to the process going forward, there will be significant hurdles to ensure such community interests are heeded.
The Armory, at Bedford and Union Streets, has been targeted for a transformation for several years. Proposals have included everything from a Chelsea Market-style Bazaar, fitness facility, sports arena, and childrens’ center. Originally under state control, it was recently placed under the city’s jurisdiction and a Request For Proposals (RFP) was issued to developers interested in the site.
“Can we trust the developers?” asked Richard Hurley, a local lawyer who led the meeting of the Crown Heights Community Council. “These are the same people too often taking our homes. They have to understand the distrust we have. They have to understand they need to earn our trust.”
Though many RFP submissions are kept secret, Hurley believed there are about six submissions now pending. He mentioned one in particular –a joint proposal of the Local Development Corporation of Crown Heights and Steiner Studios–that he favors.
“This is a local group that’s been here when times were bad, and now when times are good,” Hurley said. “Other developers are transient, they don’t live here. Now they want to come in and take advantage.”
Even with a local developer, however, Hurley was worried that certain community interests might not be met unless made binding. He made it a point to circulate a petition, demanding a ban on any usage fee for local residents (for whatever amenities are built on the site), employment opportunities for locals within the facility (including managerial employment), and health care services, among other requests.
A mostly congenial if occasionally testy crowd agreed, emphasizing enthusiasm for more facilities but a general distrust of many developers and interested parties.
A number of political figures dropped by and spoke to the packed room. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) was one of them. Cumbo emphasized the need to be “proactive, not reactive” to proposals and advised she would check in with other armory redevelopment groups, such as in Park Slope, to glean their prior successful strategies.
There will be several more community meetings ahead as the RFP process advances.