By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The historic circa-1907 Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights may be transformed into a recreation center, sports complex, youth and senior services center and/or an entertainment venue, a New York University study released yesterday said.
The site was vacated by the National Guard last year.
Borough President Marty Markowitz said the NYU report is thefirst step toward “a vision of what could be.”
Applications that need large amounts of space, such as a sports center or an entertainment venue, would be housed in the drill hall, where National Guard members once marched.
Youth services, senior services, community arts programming and other uses that require less space would go into the head house, where the administrative offices of the armory were located.
A public meeting and open house was held in January, during which community input was gathered, and additional town halls will be scheduled.
NYU's Wagner Capstone team determined that the armory would require a primary operator; programming should be flexible, financially sustainable, balanced and affordable; and the armory must be a “safe, welcoming space for the entire community.”
The report gives examples of several armories that have been successfully converted to community use. One of these is the Park Slope Armory, which now includes a recreational center operated by the YMCA of Greater New York that includes track, basketball, soccer and volleyball facilities.
Rick Russo, interim president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, was involved in early efforts to revive the Park Slope Armory in the 1990s. He told the Brooklyn Eagle, “The main thing that made the effort a success was community input. We made sure that every viewpoint from the community was heard — that each person had a voice.”
Commenting on the report in general, Pearl Miles, district manager of Community Board 9, said, “We are still at the beginning of the process, so I can’t say, 'I want this use' or 'I want that use.' We just want what’s best for the community.”
The NYU team also recommended interim uses for the armory, such as flea markets and greenmarkets, as well as the possible sale of the armory’s parking lot for residential development — which could create revenues for the overall project.
The armory covers one square block, between Bedford and Rogers avenues, Union and President streets; covers 2.8 acres and has approximately 138,000 square feet of floor space.
It is one of many armories that were built for the National Guard during the 19th and early 20th centuries — in addition to the aforementioned Park Slope Armory and Bedford-Union, these also include the Dean Street Armory, the Bedford-Atlantic Armory, and the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg.
Eric Durr, spokesman for the New York state branch of the National Guard, explained that in the 19th century, units were based in the area where their members lived. As travel by car, railroad and subway became more feasible, he said, the need for neighborhood armories decreased.
In addition, he said, “We don’t march in a circle in a drill hall anymore. If we need to drill, we get together in a parking lot, then a bus takes us to Fort Dix."
During the past few years, the Bedford-Union Armory has had a variety of secondary uses. It has housed film shoots, collection of supplies for Haitian earthquake relief and a gathering of 10,000 Satmar Hasidim, among other things.
The report also described some of the conditions that exist within a mile of the armory — conditions that armory-based programs could positively impact. Findings include the following:
Nearly a third of all the households have children under 18, close to half of the families are headed by a single mother and a quarter of the households have a resident over the age of 65.
Annual household income is more than 12 percent below the borough median, and 22 percent of the overall population and a third of children live below the poverty line.
Disconnected youth — defined as those between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school nor the workforce — represents a significant portion of the local population, and issues of crime and limited access to year-round recreation and exercise spaces are also present.
Linda Collins considered to this report