The view from Spofford.

Spofford redux nears planning phase

The city will soon solicit ideas for developing the former juvenile detention center on Spofford Avenue. Community Board 2 wants to be sure local residents are involved in the process from the get-go.

The view from Spofford.

City will seek ideas for repurposing former jail

The former juvenile detention center on Spofford Avenue stands on the verge of a complete overhaul, and many in Hunts Point want to be sure the community has the primary say in deciding what will replace the notorious old jail.

The city’s Economic Development Corp. will soon begin soliciting ideas for converting the 207,000 square-foot, city-owned campus, formerly known as Bridges Juvenile Justice Center. The facility, which closed in 2011, was reviled by juvenile justice advocates who argued that its dark, oppressive atmosphere made young inmates more bitter and dangerous instead of rehabilitating them. 

Representatives of the agency met with Community Board 2’s Land Use committee on Feb. 4 to announce that by the end of the month they will solicit developers and the public to submit new ideas for resurrecting the site. The parcel also includes the La Peninsula Head Start children’s educational facility on Manida Street and a parking lot. The two buildings that comprise the former detention center would be remediated and renovated or demolished.

Julie Simon, EDC’s assistant vice president of development, told the board the project will likely encompass “the full gamut of mixed use. There will be housing here, but the site is so big it can accommodate multiple uses” to include “innovative industrial uses compatible with residential” development. The city wants “high quality, career-oriented jobs” to drive the project, she said.

A swimming pool sits empty inside the former detention center.

But the board bristled at the notion the city could repurpose the block-wide parcel without the community’s input from the start. They insisted local voices be included in the agency’s selection process even before it releases its official Request for Expression of Ideas.

“What if they propose something to you guys that doesn’t meet our standards?” said board chair Dr. Ian Amritt. He and others recalled instances when, they said, EDC promised to take local interests into account, but didn’t.

“We don’t trust the system,” Amritt said. “We’ve been burned so badly in the past. We want to be there at the table with you.”

“Elected officials need to be brought in early on rather in the end as with the car shops,” said the board’s vice chair, Robert Crespo. Board 2 was livid last year when it learned EDC had brokered a deal to bring dozens of auto repair and parts shops to the Hunts Point peninsula when those businesses were forced out of Queens to make way for a massive development project. The board was not informed of that deal until the car shops were about to move into a space on Leggett Avenue.

“Developers get the money and we don’t get nothing,” said board treasurer Paula Fields, reminding board members that the city had promised to build an alternative fueling station near the food distribution markets several years ago, but has yet to follow through.

James Chase, vice president of marketing for the Majora Carter Group on Garrison Avenue, told EDC the city should hire local consultants to help plan the project. The Carter group held a competition in September for architects to submit design ideas for the site.

“Everyone isn’t going to get everything they want,” Simon acknowledged, but tried to assure the board her agency would not play favorites in selecting from the proposals it receives.

“We don’t have a horse in this game,” she said, adding that a percentage of jobs will be set aside for local residents. In addition, she said, La Peninsula’s work with children would not be interrupted during construction.

Some board members raised the idea of an educational facility to occupy the space, such as a branch or extension of Hostos Community College. All agreed, however, that whatever comes is bound to be better than what was there before.

“This site is a very dark part of our district,” said Amritt. “We’d like to see something come out of the ashes.”

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