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Opinion

At the Bedford-Union Armory, a Community’s Vision is Realized


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Beford-Union Armory rendering


As one of Brooklyn’s most historic neighborhoods, Crown Heights is a cultural landmark and epicenter for creativity. For many that knew Brooklyn before the age of mega-development, Crown Heights was once home to many recreational spaces for youth and families. I remember growing up in the Crown Heights/East Flatbush section of Brooklyn with a variety of recreational outlets, from the Empire Roller Rink and Bedford Bowl to the Kenmore Movie Theatre to the Crown Heights Youth Collective and more. I always felt like I had somewhere to go.

From 2007 onward, the Crown Heights community has felt the impact of the absence of recreational spaces for young people, left without vital community resources to help navigate young adulthood. For over a decade, our youth have grown up without essential academic and recreational spaces to live, learn, and grow. Today we celebrate the symbolic resurgence of community in Crown Heights with the groundbreaking for the newly renovated Bedford-Union Armory.

Steeped in tradition and legacy, yet newly designed to meet the needs of all residents, this space will cultivate a new era for Crown Heights: restoring unity in the community.

For generations, activists and community organizers have argued that the community needs a vibrant recreational center to be utilized by all residents, and reflect the rich history of the neighborhood. As Central Brooklyn continues to change, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for cultural non-profits to find permanent, affordable spaces to flourish and grow within the community.

As of next year, the repurposed armory will serve as a multi-use facility with affordable housing, recreational space, arts, after-school programming, and more. This week’s groundbreaking is the first step toward realizing the vision that has united our community.

Currently under construction, the Bedford-Union Armory’s vast recreational space will include three hardwood basketball courts, a multi-sport field, and a six-lane swimming pool—all of which will be available to local families and students at nearby schools. When standing inside the armory, it does not take much imagination to envision a completed athletic facility bustling with the energy and excitement of students unwinding after a long day at school. Rooted in the Crown Heights community tradition, the armory builds on the forward-thinking vision of Congressional Rep. Major Owens and other community stakeholders envisioned by creating a neighborhood hub for activity.

Partnerships with groups like New Heights Youth will help empower local students to reach their full academic and personal potential. This organization, which will be housed in the classroom space of the new armory, works with young men and women with an interest in basketball. Their after-school program in Crown Heights will help students to complete their homework before hitting the courts. Since 2005, 100 percent of New Heights students have graduated high school, and 98 percent enroll in college.

With programming that bridges education, arts, athletics, and empowerment, we know that the armory will be a long-standing community center in our beloved neighborhood.

While the Armory’s recreation center will be a community gathering space, it is these non-profit tenants that prove most exciting. Many of those tenants, leasing space at $6 a square foot, are providing programming and services that will truly make a difference with Central Brooklyn’s youth.

Consider, for example, Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy, the organization that provides African-centered rites of passage programming to over 2,000 students and their families, will take up a permanent space at the Bedford-Union Armory. It will expand to a seven-day-per-week program offering academic support and mentoring in addition to dance classes.

A similar story will unfold with Digital Girl Inc. The organization, which offers computer classes and other services for young women and men, now spends time in public schools, but also lacks a permanent home. When the armory opens its doors, it will have a complete computer lab that will operate seven days a week, making STEM programming the new norm, not an academic luxury for the elite.

There is so much more that could be said about the armory’s impact: over 29 nonprofits and athletic organizations will call it home when it is finished, plus the additional educational and enrichment programs that will utilize the common space and recreational activity. Each of these organizations are already impacting the community and now their efforts will be supported and amplified by the armory’s resources.

All in all, the redeveloped Bedford-Union Armory will offer services to the entire Crown Heights community with the recreation, performing arts, and after-school programming that it has deserved for generations. This week’s groundbreaking is merely the first step forward in this historic project of which all Central-Brooklynites can be proud.

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City Council Member Laurie Cumbo represents parts of Brooklyn and is the majority leader of the Council. On Twitter @CMLaurieCumbo.

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