Despite opposition, developers break ground on Bedford Union Armory redevelopment
At a ground-breaking ceremony on Wednesday for the gym and housing development project, City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo passionately defended her work in carrying the project through a contentious public review process while she ran for re-election in 2017 — and coped with a difficult pregnancy.
“Everyone had said to me, ‘You should kill this project — you know you’re going to lose your re-election,’” she told attendees at the ground-breaking. “People also said, “You’re having a baby. Have an easy pregnancy. Why would you put yourself through this?’”
Cumbo said her problems during her pregnancy included a scar on her placenta and gestational diabetes. But she refused to give up on championing the development through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure — or ULURP — to a City Council vote.
“I thought about all the children who would be able to come here,” Cumbo said.
In addition to the gym, the armory will house nonprofit groups like Digital Girls Inc., which is opening a computer lab, and Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy.
Cumbo predicted the armory will be a place of recreation and academic enrichment for “a new generation of young people who are going to be well-rounded. And so I couldn’t say no to that. I couldn’t just kill the deal for them.”
Next door to the armory, project developer BFC Partners is constructing two new buildings on the site with 415 apartments, 250 of them affordable for tenants with earnings from 30 percent to 60 percent of area median income. (An individual at 30 percent of AMI earns $22,410 per year; an individual at 60 percent of AMI earns $44,820 per year.) Twenty-five of the apartments for residents at 30 percent of AMI will be reserved for people who were formerly homeless.
The armory gym is expected to open in late 2020. The apartments will be completed later.
The gym will have a competitive-length swimming pool, hardwood basketball courts and a multi-sport court for tennis, indoor soccer and volleyball.
The developer holds a 99-year lease on the armory property, which belongs to the city.
At the ground-breaking, State Assemblymember Walter Mosley praised Cumbo’s efforts to support the armory redevelopment during her re-election and pregnancy and said the project will be her “legacy.”
ULURP projects don’t customarily win City Council approval without the support of the councilmember in whose district they’re located.
The historic armory building will be named in honor of Carey Gabay, the Empire State Development Corp. attorney who was shot to death at a September 2015 J’Ouvert celebration. Trenelle Gabay, his widow, was present at the ground-breaking.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams remains opposed to the parameters of the Bedford Union Armory project, though they were modified to increase the number of affordable rental apartments included in it and 56 condos were eliminated from it. He issued a formal expression of disapproval to the original plan during the project’s ULURP in 2017.
“The borough president has been clear throughout this process that we must listen to the voices of the community, who are largely united in calling for 100 percent of the units to be affordable for surrounding residents,” a spokesperson for Adams told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.
Adams did not attend the ground-breaking ceremony because of a scheduling conflict, his spokesperson said.
“The borough president believes that our number one priority must be increasing the supply of affordable housing. Community amenities are important, but they cannot come at the expense of affordability,” the spokesperson added.
A group that opposed the terms of the Bedford Union redevelopment deal even after Cumbo renegotiated them continues to take a dim view of the project because it will have 165 market-rate apartments.
“This is a gentrification project that the mayor and local councilmember pushed through, against the community that demanded precious public land not be turned over to private developers for luxury apartments,” Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, told the Eagle.
Another aspect of the controversy surrounding the armory project was the participation of Slate Property Group, which originally was a co-developer with BFC Partners.
Activists objected because they believed Slate could not be trusted to deliver affordable housing due to its track record in planning luxury housing at the former Rivington House nursing home. The Lower East Side nursing home had a restriction on it that mandated it be used only for health care purposes.
In 2016, Slate sold its stake in the armory redevelopment to BFC Partners and withdrew from the project.
Protesters shouted furiously in the City Council’s chambers when the council approved the armory project in November 2017. The Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit challenging the project, which was dismissed in 2018.
The armory was originally designed by distinguished architecture firm Pilcher and Tachau for Troop C, which was a New York State cavalry unit established in 1895. Its construction was completed in 1907.
The building had a fencing room and drill hall where the cavalry members rode their horses — and a horse-weighing station.
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