Majora Carter presents plan to replace detention center
In the year since Bridges Juvenile Center was decommissioned, the hulking building surrounded by barbed wire that has occupied five acres on Spofford Ave. since 1957, has remained empty.
Now that the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has said it will begin taking proposals from developers interested in building on the space, one prominent former resident of Hunts Point says she wants to convert the property into mixed-income housing, commercial space and a community center, with an emphasis on community improvement.
But when renowned environmental activist Majora Carter told Community Board 2 at a May meeting that she is working on a proposal that would combine those features, a few board members said they were skeptical about whether local residents would benefit.
“There’s an enormous need for early childhood development and youth development in the community,” Carter told the board, adding, “Despite the great work of places like The Point and Casita Maria, there is still the need for cultural organizations.”
The space could be reborn as a home to green businesses or a community center of some kind, she said, with mixed-income housing as the key to financing the project. For some board members, the housing plan is a problem. They aren’t happy that Carter envisions market-rate rental units as part of the housing component.
Building for higher-income tenants “usually almost makes it impossible for anybody in this community to apply for those apartments,” the board’s first vice chair, Robert Crespo, told Carter. He opposes the idea, he said.
Joyce Campbell-Culler, chair of the board’s housing committee, later said she would push to ensure any new major housing proposal would take Section-8 recipients.
Carter, a Hunts Point native, garnered national fame when she founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001, to devise solutions for environmental problems facing the neighborhood, and to create green jobs. She later helped secure a federal grant to convert a former dumping ground on the Bronx River into Hunts Point Riverside Park, the area’s first waterfront park to be built since World War II. In 2008 she left Sustainable South Bronx to start her own, Hunts Point-based environmental planning and consulting company, the Majora Carter Group, whose office is just off Hunts Point Ave.
Carter told the board she remembered passing the huge juvenile jail every day while walking to school as a girl growing up in the neighborhood.
Carter’s husband, James Chase, who is the spokesman for the Majora Carter Group, thinks the complex will quickly attract investors, but added they will insist on having some tenants paying higher rents to offset the subsidized apartments.
“All of the major housing developments out there will take a swing at” acquiring the Spofford site, Chase said. “If you want to have a visionary, catalytic project, it will require more than straight-up low-affordable housing,” he told the Express.
Demolition of the jail in order to rebuild will present another funding challenge, Chase said.
For now, Carter is meeting with local community groups to discuss possible collaborations. Wanda Salaman, executive director of Longwood-based grass roots organization Mothers on the Move, said she would be open to a partnership that would combine housing with local environmental initiatives.
“If there’s an opportunity to make new buildings that are affordable, healthy and green, I’m all for it,” Salaman said.
While Campbell-Culler wants to see to it Section-8 recipients can rent in any new complex, she added there should be attractive housing for more well-to-do Hunts Point natives who want to return to the neighborhood after launching successful careers elsewhere.
“We’re always telling young people to get degrees and then come back,” she said.