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City decides on Spofford’s future

An aerial view of Spofford.

An ambitious, multifaceted development plan led by two Hunts Point-based groups has been selected by the city to replace the towering hulks that once housed Bridges Juvenile Justice Center on Spofford Avenue.

The New York City Economic Development Corp. has selected a proposal submitted last year by Urban Health Plan and The Point Community Development Corp., in response to a Request for Expressions of Interest it released in June 2015 soliciting ideas to revitalize the 4.75-acre site of the juvenile jail, which was shut down five years ago. 

The selected proposal mixes affordable housing, light manufacturing, Bronx-owned small businesses and arts organizations, along with a supermarket, a bank and a health and wellness center. The housing component of the plan calls for 740 apartments, all priced at or below 100 percent of the federally-set Area Median Income (AMI) level, with 80 percent of the units priced at 60 percent of the AMI or below.

The plan also includes an expanded La Peninsula Head Start program, a brewery, a local bakery and eateries that will either relocate entirely to the new space or expand their operations.

For decades juvenile justice advocates and residents had urged the city to close the notorious jail, better known during its 53 years in operation simply as Spofford. They wanted corrections officials to revamp the criminal justice system for teens with services that would include alternative-to-incarceration programs and other less punitive measures.

Starting last year, the EDC worked with local groups to organize neighborhood meetings, inviting members of the public to add their own ideas. In all, the agency considered four proposals before it made its selection.

Plans call for demolishing the jail and replacing it with five new buildings ranging up to 14 stories high. Gilbane Development Co., the Hudson Company and the Municipal Housing Association of New York comprise the development team.

One of the proposals the EDC did not select had called for buildings up to 28 stories with 1,200 mixed-income apartments and 90 apartments that low-income residents of the neighborhood could own. That proposal by The Majora Carter Group reflected that group’s oft-stated view that gentrification is inevitable and should be planned for accordingly to keep young people with good-paying jobs from leaving the neighborhood. Some residents feared buildings that tall would be out of place on the peninsula. Additionally, according to anonymous sources with inside knowledge of the project, the city disapproved of that plan’s priority for market-rate instead of low-income renters.

The project must first pass through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process by the community board, the borough president and the City Council to move forward. If it passes, construction could begin as early as next year and is slated to finish in 2024—a new MetroNorth stop is expected to be finalized on Hunts Point Avenue in 2023. The city estimates it will cost $300 million and will lead to 177 permanent jobs.

At a press conference inside Spofford on Oct. 27 at which EDC President and CEO Maria Torres-Springer publicly announced details of the project, City Councilman Rafael Salamanca said he would try to push for the city to raise the number of apartments set aside for area residents from the usual 50 percent to 70 percent. Because financing will be provided in part by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city is required to set aside 50 percent of the apartments for residents from within the district.

“I want to make sure no one in my district gets displaced,” said Salamanca.

Maria Torres, president of The Point and chair of Community Board 2’s economic development committee, said the project will create opportunities for residents.

“It’s not just being able to work with all these partners to get them a new space,” said Torres. “It’s also the fact that we’re doing real economic development,  creating living wage jobs in growing industries for the community, and all affordable housing so people from this community will have a real chance at living here and staying here,” she said, adding it will represent a “bright new future for an area that was once a dark part of our history.”

 The story was updated on Oct. 27 and again on Nov. 8.

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