In Crown Heights, a former armory serves the community
The Bedford Union Armory in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights was built in the early 1900s. Troops were stationed in the compound until 2011, when they were transferred to Fort Hamilton. The armory sat derelict until 2019, when developers began a substantial redevelopment process that transformed it into a mixed-use project dubbed the Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center. The first component of the development – a leisure center – opened in October 2021.
New York architecture firm wonder took charge of the project for the client BFC Partners and used its expertise to solve social and environmental problems, while improving the quality of life of the community by proposing coherent and long-term solutions.
“The goal was to reactivate the site and transform the facility into a modernized functional center that provides vital services to the community, including a sports and cultural center and new housing, while preserving as much of the historic fabric as possible. “, Guido Hartray, one of the founding partners of Marvel, said commercial real estate director.
The new center was designed to combine recreational and extracurricular programs, cultural activities and support services under one roof. The Major R. Owens Community Health and Wellness Center includes a swimming pool, dance studios, indoor soccer field, and multiple basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts. Additionally, the interior space can be adapted to accommodate various activities such as farmers markets, movies and community gatherings, or transformed into formal spaces for non-profit organizations to provide tutoring, counseling , cultural programming and LGBTQ+ support on site.
The project also includes a residential component consisting of a new eight-story, 60-unit affordable building with a medical facility, and a 320,000-square-foot, 15-story residential building with 355 affordable and market-priced units. . The lower building is positioned along the south edge of the armory – its volume hinged to maintain the profile of the existing stables – and the larger residential building sits on a traversing lot extending from President Streets to Union Streets.
For the project to materialize as Marvel intended, rezoning was necessary, Hartray told us. The underlying logic of this rezoning was that while the proposed size of the program area was zoning compliant, accommodating and preserving the dramatic features of the existing building, flexibility in heights and setbacks was also required.
“For example, the exercise shed, the site’s most iconic element, is 80 feet high, but occupies only one floor of the program. To enable its preservation as an inspiring sporting and educational space, we needed the flexibility to build taller elements on other parts of the site,” he explained.
The housing component and the community sports facility meet important needs of the neighborhood – the housing helps subsidize the creation of the sports centre.
“Dedicating the most spectacular spaces to community, cultural and educational use means that the history of this neighborhood remains intact and accessible, which would be impossible if the site had been relegated solely to housing,” added Hartray.
Marvel managed to preserve approximately 84% of the original Armory building, which on the one hand added to the project’s attention to sustainability and green practices, as preservation is an solid. green building strategy. On the other hand, it came with its challenges.
The attempt to install new housing in the former stable wing proved impossible, given the narrow range of room and unit sizes required for affordable housing. Therefore, all preserved historic areas are dedicated to community use.
In the end, the housing part was accommodated in the new construction areas and the development of two new buildings on a compact site with important historical buildings without damaging the structures and combining the new and the old in a fluid composition. and consistent, proved to be the most difficult aspects of this development. .
“The solution was to find a good match between the new programs and the historic spaces to be preserved so that parts of the building could be used with limited modifications. Programs that had more specific space needs, such as housing, were best served by new construction,” Hartray said.
The Major Owens Center also has an on-site cogeneration plant, which is expected to meet the project’s heating, cooling and power demand, removing it from the ConEd grid.
The new project did not come to fruition without controversy, leading to a long delay in the repurposing of the century-old building. But the response from the community has been enthusiastic and strong. Sports and community games are now open, with attendance and programs booming.
“I’m sure the vitality will only increase once the new accommodations open,” Hartray concluded. The housing components of the project are expected to open in 2022 and 2023.