The former Spofford juvenile detention center could bring a host of new uses and ideas to Hunts Point, but few neighbors have any idea that plans are underway for the once-reviled Spofford Avenue facility.
In an informal curbside survey by Express reporters, hardly any local residents knew the project even existed, and as a result, had no way to give input into what could be one of the biggest neighborhood projects in decades.
“I didn’t know that project was happening,” said Christina Lane, a TV host and reporter who lives in Hunts Point.
Community leaders have been discussing the building’s future since it was closed more than four years ago. The site of what was formally called Bridges Juvenile Center is at 1221 Spofford Ave., on the corner of Tiffany Street. Most recently, the city agency that owns the site solicited proposals from both community groups and developers on what to do with the property. But a community forum on the project held in August attracted just several dozen neighborhood residents.
“This is a great opportunity to do something positive,” said Maria Torres, a Community Board 2 member and a founder of The Point. “And this project is able to generate a new economy and new ideas.”
Some community groups offered proposals before the Oct. 1 deadline, though a list of responses has not yet been published by the city.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which owns the Spofford building, is open to both residential and commercial plans that range from affordable housing to uses that encourage “light industrial, manufacturing, technology or the arts.”
Even though general public awareness about the Spofford project is low, residents still have opinions about what Hunts Point needs to make it a thriving neighborhood.
“We need something inviting that makes people want to come to Hunts Point,” said Lane. She says that despite the neighborhood’s convenient location to Manhattan, outsiders steer clear of it because of its reputation. “Hunts Point is scary, but not that scary.”
“I felt it was a good idea to have housing for artists. Why do we need to leave Hunts Point to find a place to live?” said William “Chill Will” Biles, the creator of a hip-hop radio show that records at The Point on Garrison Avenue. If Hunts Point had more to offer in the way of housing and amenities, he said, artists like him could live here and take advantage of the community’s rich cultural history.
Germania Solis, a local child-care provider, had a whole laundry list of uses for the building.
“This is a poor neighborhood. They need to build accessible and low-income housing, a small mall, day care, an elderly home. Everything fits in there,” she said. Solis hopes the space will benefit the residents, as well as attract outsiders. “We could also use a hotel or amusement park for the children,” she said, noting that when Hunts Point residents have visitors from out of town, there is no place for them to stay and little for them to do.
Accessibility to amenities was also high on the list.
“Why do I have to walk so far or leave Hunts Point for stuff?” Lane asked. She noted that a trip to the supermarket, beauty supply store or laundromat is nothing short of a hassle. She would like to see the chosen proposal allow for shops that can cater specifically to residents’ needs.
Many people want to avoid the dreaded “G”-word—gentrification. The fear is that once the neighborhood is discovered by outsiders, long-time residents will be pushed out due to increased market competition for rents. With a commute of less than 20 minutes into Manhattan, Hunts Point could be very attractive to developers. The location of the Spofford site also allows for a panoramic view of Manhattan’s skyline.
“We need something the community can utilize for the future and be a part of,” said Torres.
Job creation at the Spofford site is one vital element to any proposal that might be chosen.
Hunts Point has been plagued with high unemployment for decades, hovering at 11 percent, compared to 8.3 percent citywide. A Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York 2014 report showed Hunts Point’s median annual income for all households to be just $21,116, well below the city average of $52,996.
Torres would like to see new industries pop up in the neighborhood, not just warehouses or auto-glass repair shops. “We want to see something out of the box, something different,” she said.
No matter what the new use turns out to be, residents say just the absence of the jail is a welcome change. “They used to shout from their windows curse words at everyone that walked by,” Solis said about the former Spofford inmates.
Some say it’s almost like a burden has been lifted from the neighborhood.
“Having Spofford there gives you less confidence in your community, or visions for your future,” said Torres. “If you grow up in the shadows of a jail, what does that say about your future opportunities? The project can be positive for young people, and it’s positive to know that this can happen in this neighborhood.”