Ice, Ice Baby: City Planning Commission Approves Plan to Convert Bronx Armory to Ice Skating Mecca

The Kingsbridge Armory (Flickr, Hobo Matt)

The Kingsbridge Armory (Flickr, Hobo Matt)

The City Planning Commission voted unanimously today to approve the conversion of the long-dormant Kingsbridge Armory, in the Bronx, to the world’s largest indoor ice skating arena. The 750,000 square-foot facility, which passed muster with Bronx Community Board 7 in September, is due to include two levels containing nine rinks. One will reportedly play host to hockey tournaments and Ice Capades-variety extravaganzas.

Following the vote, Mark Messier, the New York Ranger captain and current CEO of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center—as the armory will be known—touted the support of both Borough President Ruben Diaz and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Today’s unanimous vote by the City Planning Commission once again demonstrates the overwhelming and still growing support for this project in the Bronx and throughout New York City,” Mr. Messier gushed in a statement.

The armory, post transformation.

The armory, post transformation.

Mr. Messier also made it clear that he hopes the ice center will join the roster of development initiatives—among them the Staten Island Ferris Wheel and the rezoning of Midtown East—that are poised to win approval before the end of the Mayor Bloomberg’s term (an outcome that the Mayor is no doubt just as eager to see realized). “We look forward to receiving full City Council approval by the end of 2013 and making this iconic site a source of opportunity for young people and the community for many years to come,” he wrote.

The Armory building dates to the early 20th century and was designed in grand, fortress-like style. The architect, one Lewis Pilcher, once modestly claimed that it was “perhaps the most interesting of all armory designs in the country.” For a time the home of the National Guard’s Eighth Coastal Artillery, it received city landmark status in 1974, and saw the end of its military service in 1996. Vacant and moldering ever since, the Armory stood poised—briefly—to become an enormous, Chelsea-market style mall, but City Council vetoed that plan by a vote of 45 to 1, in the wake of acrimony over the developer’s failure to guarantee living-wage jobs in the new facility. (Mayor Bloomberg called that vote “disappointing and irrational.”)

The ice center, too, took some flack from local residents, some of whom worried about increased traffic and insufficient parking, while others complained that admissions fees would price out people in the neighborhood. The most compelling criticism has come from those who argue that nine indoor ice skating rinks—with another outside, is  excessive. “I’m not against the ice rink—three, I think, is fine,” one woman told The Daily News. “The armory is enormous, and I think it can accommodate other things.”

We’re also skeptical of Mr. Messier’s prediction that KNIC will transform “the Bronx into the new center of ice sports in the United States.” We’re all for a little old fashioned New York City solipsism, but we would be remiss to discount the Midwest in its entirety where ice hockey is concerned.

Nonetheless, the largely popular plan now heads to City Council for approval. For his part, Mayor Bloomberg has also been bullish on this Armory project, too: “The construction of the world’s largest indoor ice rink facility will create recreational opportunities for millions of visitors and local residents, and most importantly create hundreds of jobs for the local community,” he told CBS in April. And sources tell The Observer that barring unforeseen impediments, getting Council approval should be a matter merely of crossing t’s and dotting i’s