Forum to discuss shuttered jail attracts a varied crowd
Plans to redevelop the notorious Bridges Juvenile Justice Center, better known as Spofford, are finally moving ahead and organizations from the Bronx and beyond want in on the action.
The city recently announced it is ready to take proposals to redevelop the 4.75 acre site on Spofford Avenue, with an emphasis on creating affordable housing and job opportunities. Since Bridges closed in 2011, residents have yearned to turn a facility seemingly haunted by negative memories into a community benefit. The site, which stretches from Tiffany Street on the south to Manida Street on the north, is one of the largest developable parcels left in Hunts Point.
More than 100 people packed into an August 3 meeting organized and led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation at The Point, to exchange ideas about best possible uses of the shuttered jail. NYCEDC has been roundly criticized in recent years for forging ahead with land use issues in neighborhoods across the city—including Hunts Point—without gathering sufficient community input.
Community Board 2 District Manager Rafael Salamanca said the project offers enormous potential benefits for the neighborhood, and residents should get involved.
“We want an experienced developer to come in,” he said. “We only get one shot at this and we want to get it right.”
EDC representatives said Spofford is a strategic site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in ten years, but insisted discussions to define affordability should take place at a later date so participants could stay focused on development ideas. Traditional local business mainstays such as heavy manufacturing, toxic waste facilities and storage warehouses would not be considered, they said, because those uses harm the environment and create few jobs; but a broad range of other possibilities are in play.
The La Peninsula Head Start program on Manida Street, around the corner from the old jail, will remain open or will be relocated during construction, so children’s programs won’t be affected, though the lot on which La Pen’s trailer is located is part of the parcel slated for development. Asbestos removal and other types of environmental remediation throughout Bridges may be required once work begins.
Discussion centered on residents’ needs for good jobs, healthy lifestyles, recreational space and schools. Because of the site’s immense size, it may accommodate multiple uses, or even multiple buildings. Tech companies, college campuses, urban farms, food co-ops, event spaces, swimming pools, community centers, non-profit offices and even rooftop restaurants all drew consideration as possible tenants.
“I would love to be able to go out for a drink and come home and not have to take the subway,” said local resident Joe Carrano, co-founder of tech training program Knowledge House, who says he currently travels to northern Manhattan for evening entertainment because of the lack of local options.
The open-ended scope of the project attracted a cross section of participants, including business owners, non-profit workers, representatives for local elected officials and real estate development companies. Some took a guided tour of Spofford before the forum.
One recently formed, local group had a heavy presence at the evening meeting. About a dozen members of the Hunts Point Advisory Board – part of Sustainable South Bronx founder and local businesswoman Majora Carter’s Hometown Security Laboratories – attended, wearing matching red polo shirts with the group’s insignia emblazoned on it. Carter has said in the past that she hopes to win the competition to develop the site, in partnership with a real estate professional with sufficiently deep pockets.
The city representatives advised that residents will have to be patient once a project is decided on, because any winning proposal will take years to complete. By the time the work is done, other major projects in the peninsula could be well underway, such as a $45 million city and federal investment to build barriers to protect the shoreline from rising rivers and a new MetroNorth station connecting Penn Station in Manhattan with parts north.
Community Board 2’s Economic Development committee chair Maria Torres, said the focus throughout the proposal process should remain on community input.
“Great to see so many people come together to hear about the project and ideas for it,” said Torres, who is also co-founder and president of The Point. “I look forward to NYCEDC keeping the public informed about possible projects.”
But while some were giddy with notions of progress, others were nervous about how changes might negatively affect working class residents. Rodrigo Venegas of the hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz, who lives across the street from Spofford, worried that the project could signal gentrification.
“It’s intriguing, but at the same time it’s terrifying,” he said. “We can’t let this get torn down and turned into a condo.”
All proposals are due to the NYC Economic Development Corp. by October 1. Officials say they will review them and consult with Community Board 2 about which ones best suit the neighborhood’s needs before proceeding.