City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo
The Bedford-Union Armory on Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights
The Bedford-Union Armory on Bedford Avenue in Crown Heights

By City Council Member Laurie Cumbo

City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo

As the City Council Member for the 35th District representing Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant, the opportunity to reimagine and transform the Bedford Union Armory, which has been officially vacant since 2011 into a world-class state-of-the-art complex would be a dream come true for the community. 

Through an inclusive three-year process that included a series of town hall meetings, roundtable discussions, focus groups and site visits, I have been proud to work alongside community residents to determine a shared vision for the community.

Through this process, residents determined that their top priorities for the Bedford Union Armory were an accessible state-of-the-art recreational facility, affordable housing consistent with the income levels of the surrounding community, below market rate space for local not-for-profit and educational organizations, meaningful jobs for the local community and exceptional Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) engaged in construction and activities related to the development of the property.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “Killing the project” will not guarantee the start of a new RFP process now or in the foreseeable future, nor are elected officials empowered to select a potential new development team”[/perfectpullquote]

BFC Partners was the development team selected by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to transform the untenanted Bedford Union Armory into an asset and anchor in the neighborhood, which would become a valuable amenity for local residents.

As the City Council Member for this District, it is my role and responsibility to negotiate alongside my colleagues, the mayoral administration and development team in order to ensure the best possible outcome for the community. While others have called to “kill the project” in the beginning of the negotiation stage, I believe that we should exhaust the entire negotiation process and continue to apply pressure in order to reach the best possible deal on behalf of the residents of the 35th District.

“Killing the project” will not guarantee the start of a new RFP process now or in the foreseeable future, nor are elected officials empowered to select a potential new development team, due to a conflict of interest. With respect to conflicts of interest law, City of New York elected officials do not have the ability to inform the process or select winners of a RFP because they must be made in an independent and impartial manner.

My greatest fear is that the Bedford Union Armory will remain abandoned for decades to come producing no affordable housing, no employment opportunities for our neighbors, or needed space for our local businesses and non-profits. 

The Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx faced a series of false starts dating back to 2000 and unfortunately remains neglected and unused to this day. Currently, our borough is facing the greatest housing crisis of all time and further challenged by a recent surge in gun violence amongst our youth. 

From the time that Congressman Major Owens envisioned revitalizing the Bedford Union Armory until now, tremendous progress has been made. However, we have a very long way to go to make sure that this project is done right for current and future generations. While there are a multitude of aspects that must be negotiated for this project some of the major points that are currently being negotiated include:

1) We must work together to make sure that the housing component of the project is permanent and truly reflective of the income and family size of our community.

2)  We must identify and secure a M/WBE development partner.

3)  We must ensure that the recreational facility is truly accessible to all the residents of our neighborhood.

4)  We must ensure that long-time not-for profit organizations and institutions of learning have long-term adequate and affordable space.

5)  We must ensure that local hiring is a top priority and that there is a long-term strategy to ensure that community hiring is ongoing.

6) We must ensure that M/WBE construction firms and companies are hired for the construction of the project and are given every opportunity for procurement opportunities for the life of the project.

7)  We must create the right balance of ensuring a unionized labor work force on all aspects of the project.

These are critical aspects of the project. My colleagues and I cannot support this project until we have clear and defined agreements that are enforceable and is in the best interest of the community.

Communities of color are continuously weakened by the divide and conquer strategy, which is a tool that has been utilized for centuries. We often see the only way to raise our visibility or relevancy is at the expense of others that look just like us. When elected officials worked together alongside community members and advocate groups, we accomplished great victories for our communities.

Through coalition building and working together as a united front over the last three years, we have been able to keep the doors of Interfaith Hospital open, sustain early childhood education and senior services at 966-972 Fulton Street, preserve affordable housing units at the former Brooklyn Jewish Hospital apartment complex, save 17 NYCHA Community Centers that were slated for closure, restore the jobs of over 400 faculty members at Long Island University (LIU), and secure the smooth transition of leadership at Medgar Evers College.

 The ability to dig deep and work together as a united front for the betterment of our community is the only way we will ever break the cycles that continue to divide us. We have seen a new generation of young, progressive individuals of color elected to public office to usher in a new era of hope, prosperity and equality – the dream of those that go to the ballot box to support us. We owe it to them and those that came before us to unite in a way that brings unprecedented strength and resources to underserved communities that have gone without for far too long. I am prepared for the challenge.

Over the course of the next several months, I look forward to presenting a series of community meetings. During our discussions, we will gather community perspectives and present project developments in order to engage constituents throughout the process. We are a district that will use our collective voice to better ourselves and our neighbors!

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