Arts Not a Priority for the Bronx, Says Councilman Opposing Plan By Brooklyn Org

Residents need jobs and possibly LGBT center instead, says Ritchie Torres

The Bronx. (Axel R-D, flickr)
The Bronx. (Axel R-D, flickr)

While artists and non-profits have begun eyeing the Bronx amid high prices in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there is one group not entirely on board with an influx of creative types to the borough: locals.

Talk about galleries and artists studios arriving in the Bronx is heating up, but New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres told the Observer that neither he nor his constituents think art or artists should be a priority in the area. Indeed, with each new mention of art in the media, the community’s fears about being priced out by gentrification are piqued, he said.

“I do not intend to support,” the project recently proposed by Brooklyn non-profit Spaceworks, which would convert the vacant Fordham library space on Bainbridge Avenue into artists’ studios and rehearsal space for performers, the Councilman said. “Those artists would largely come from outside the district… and the perception of gentrification [the project could cause] makes it a hard sell.”

Councilman Ritchie Torres. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)
Councilman Ritchie Torres. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Instead, Mr. Torres said he supports using the space to build a training facility for locals hoping to pursue jobs in the city’s civil service. He represents City Council District 15.

“As a local council member I have determined that the lack of employment opportunities,” is the more urgent matter for Bronx citizens, Mr. Torres said. “The community has an attachment to the space,” and he would like it to be as relevant to them as possible.

The Fordham Library on Bainbridge Avenue.
The Fordham Library on Bainbridge Avenue.

This may leave Mr. Torres at odds with the city administration over the best path for the borough, though. The Councilman said that Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen has been supportive of Spaceworks’ plans for the Fordham library spot (it “seems to be a priority” for her, he said) despite what locals want.

Of course, there are many steps ahead before any re-purposing can go ahead. The uniform land use review process has not begun for either redevelopment plan; ULURP does generally strongly rely on the support of the local councilperson. City Council tends always to side with the district’s representative and re-zoning without that person is rare.

Mr. Torres said he was also surprised that Spaceworks was embarking on the redevelopment of the library and another site with a mere $10 million. “It could be $20 million, [just to redevelop] one of those sites,” he said. “I’m even concerned about the economics.”

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs confirmed via email that the Spaceworks project was only under consideration, but did not respond to a request for comment on Ms. Glen’s role in promoting the plan.

Park Parkhill, executive director of Spaceworks, admitted that “nothing is set in stone,” in terms of the non-profit’s plans for the library building, but told the Observer that his organization is “committed to building affordable work space for artists in the Bronx, and we think the Fordham site represents a great opportunity to serve local artists, Bronx cultural organizations and community members.”

Mr. Torres, the first openly gay Councilman from the Bronx, said instead of artists’ space, he supports the jobs training center, co-located with a LGBT center. (The plan Spaceworks is promoting would also hold an LGBT center).

“We are the only borough without an LGBT center,” Mr. Torres said. “Staten Island has one.” Arts Not a Priority for the Bronx, Says Councilman Opposing Plan By Brooklyn Org