Final Blow to Cycling Groups Who Sought an Indoor Velodrome in the Bronx
By Jen Benepe – New York -April 23, 2013
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that the city will be transforming an old armory in the Bronx into the largest
indoor ice facility in the world.
The Kingsbridge National Ice Center will offer nine year round indoor ice rinks, including one with 5,000 seats for major hockey and ice skating events, said a spokesperson for the city.
The announcement dashes the long held dream for once and for all by cycling groups who had hoped to use the armory to host an indoor velodrome.
“The Kingsbridge Armory would have been perfect, but there’s no use crying over spilled milk,” said Jack Simes, head of the National Cycling Association which had at one time sought to place at least a temporary velodrome in the building with the assistance of architect Ralph Schuermann.
Schuermann is responsible for designing the track near the Unione Cyclistes Internationale (UCI) headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.
During the time that the armory was empty, bicycle groups have held indoor roller races there, including one in January 2012 that was sponsored by the National Cycling Association.
As part of the new development, KNIC Partners LLC are planning to invest $275 million to redevelop the building which is now standing vacant. The city says the plan will result in greater than 260 permanent jobs and 890 construction jobs during implementation.
The Armory has been vacant since 1996, and is a landmark that occupies a full city block.
Located at 29 West Kingsbridge Road, it will be redeveloped into a 750,000-square-foot ice sports facility to be known as Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC).
The center will feature nine year-round indoor regulation size ice rinks, including a feature rink that can seat approximately 5,000 people and be used to host national and international ice hockey tournaments, figure and speed skating competitions and ice shows.
The project will also include 50,000 square feet of space designated for community uses.
The 9-story red brick building was last used by the National Guard, and since has been the topic of heated debate in the
surrounding Bronx community, including among cyclists, about how the building should be used.
It took almost two decades for the city, developers, and community groups to final settle on a purpose for the old armory which was built in 1910.
In 1948, the armory was used for 6-day bicycle racing, where cyclists rode for six days straight, taking short naps in between so they could continue on.
A 1948 race program recovered by the National Cycling Association profiled all of the riders in the race, many of them Europeans.
The organization planned to reintroduce 6-day racing in the United States recently, and among the planned locations was the Kingsbridge Armory.
In 2011, the group, initially led by Jack Simes, and later by Mike Green of the Century Road Club Association, made a proposal to the city to convert the Armory into a indoor cycling venue.
During the time that the armory was empty, the National Cycling Association held indoor roller races there, including one in January 2012 .
If the city had adopted this proposal, they would have brought back one of the most popular spectator spots that started in New York in the late 1800’s.
Six day racing had a brief resurgence after World War II, explained Simes in an interview with CI, and in 1948 they held a 9,000 seat sell-out event in the Armory.
Such a venue would have provided a space in the five boroughs to host bicycle racing indoors, not just on an amateur level, but also for schools and pro team racing.
At first Simes said he wanted to set up a 3 and 6-day racing event to prove the commercial viability of the concept to the city, but never received permission to do so. The track designed by Ralph Schuermann could have been built in the facility on a temporary basis, and carted out when the project was completed.
A later proposal by Joshua Rechnitz to the Parks Dept. for an indoor velodrome in Brooklyn was at first accepted then scuttled earlier this year for technical reasons.
That leaves the entire tri-state region without a safe indoor velodrome suitable for training children and young adults in addition to hosting racing.
With both projects turned away by the city now, the armory will be dedicated to ice skating, hardly the kind of sport practiced by the mostly Hispanic neighbors in the Bronx neighborhood.
“I saw it wasn’t going to work and I took the path of least resistance,” said Simes. He is now working on developing a similar project in California using the same kind of temporary track set-ups to form a 3-day race, to prove the event’s commercial viability. And he keeps in contact with the local Bergen County Velodrome project which may find its home in Newark, NJ.
A 3-day racing event planned by Simes in California is expected to be announced for October 11 through 13 this year, he said.
An earlier plan by the Related Co.’s to turn the Armory into a vast 60,000 square foot supermarket in 2009 raised objections among local busiensses who said it would put them out of business. That plan was voted down by the city council in 2010.
Two major plans were floated in the end, one for the national ice center, and the other for a large multi-use shopping area
that would cater to the community much like the Chelsea Market called Mercado Mirabo.
At the time, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. backed the ice facility plan, and his communications director John DeSio, said that “both proposals are good, but we think the ice center is better,” according to a report by the Wall St. Journal.
The president of KNIC Partners, Jonathan Richter, a New York real-estate developer who has played amateur hockey for more than 35 years, said that his group had met frequently with community boards and neighborhood organizations.
The Mercado Mirabo concept pitched by New York-based developer YoungWoo & Associates said their idea would provide a holiday and weekend marketplace with hundreds of small vendors selling merchandise and food in rows of stalls as well as two larger anchor retail tenants.
It would also have had space for concerts and conferences, a first-run movie theater, a hip-hop museum, a Crunch fitness gym, a youth basketball program and a rock-climbing wall described as the world’s tallest.
The city expects the new ice center to draw more than 2 million visitors a year, increasing the options of ice facilities in New York City, where there are currently only seven year-round ice rinks, none of which are located in the Bronx.