City Hall should stop blocking Kingsbridge ice center in Bronx

The massive, historic Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx sits empty — a colossal symbol of a part of NYC untouched by economic vitality and growth.

It’s a gold mine of opportunity in need of a power play. A group led by former New York Rangers star Mark Messier proposed the first year-round ice center in the Bronx at the space. It would host nine rinks, a 5,000-seat arena, offices, community programs and more. But at the armory, there’s no construction, no jobs, no pucks, no activity. The community is waiting. And that’s a travesty.

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, or KNIC, is stuck in an epic quagmire. New York City’s Economic Development Corp. is holding the property’s lease in escrow, so work can’t start. EDC officials say they’re awaiting proof that the project’s first phase is properly funded.

KNIC representatives say they have financing: $20 million in private equity and a $138 million loan from the state’s Empire State Development arm. City officials say the loan’s not binding, so they think the money may not be there. But Empire State Development says its “commitment is in place to this day.” This week, KNIC sued the city EDC, saying officials conspired with Messier’s former partners to stop the project. The EDC denies the claims.

It’s a complete mess, and it’s unacceptable. The children of the Bronx, the residents who need jobs, and the hundreds of thousands who would benefit deserve better.

Late Wednesday, after the lawsuit was filed, and after we started asking questions, city officials backed off a bit, offering to release the lease, with conditions. That’s a sign of a thaw. But the city mustn’t impose conditions that impinge on the project’s success. Oversight and accountability are keys. But let them build.

Messier remembers his first moments on ice, at age 2. They changed his life. Now he wants to change others’ lives. “This is not about building ice sheets,” Messier said. “This is about creating a future for kids, creating jobs in the community and bringing the community together.”

The money is there. With ice rinks for the kids, jobs for the adults, and economic development for all, the project could be a hat trick for the region.