Play money: State doles out millions to fill funding gap for promised armory rec center

Play money: State doles out millions to fill funding gap for promised armory rec center
Gov. Cuomo’s office

The governor on Monday kicked in $15 million in state cash to fund the recreation center a developer promised to build as part of its city-approved scheme to transform Crown Heights’s publicly owned armory into a mixed-use residential complex.

The taxpayer dollars are vital to the project, which lost a huge stream of expected revenue when Council struck a deal with builder BFC Partners to axe controversial condos and include more below-market-rate rentals in its plan for the site, according to a pol who hammered out that agreement and ultimately signed off on the redevelopment.

“Taking those condos off the table at the final hour did leave the project with a financial shortfall,” said Crown Heights Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo. “What we have been doing has pretty much been trying to secure additional sources of funding.”

Reps for BFC — which signed a 99-year lease for the Bedford-Union Armory at 1579 Bedford Ave. following Council’s approval of its revised project — maintained that the luxury condominiums were necessary to pay for the $25-million rec center throughout the development’s contentious public-review process, according to a spokesman, who said Gov. Cuomo chipping in should come as no surprise after those units got cut from the final plan.

“It was always known – following changes made to the project last year – that additional financing sources would be put in place for the new recreation center,” said Sam Spokony.

And if Cuomo didn’t come up with the cash, the community space likely would have fallen by the wayside as work on the armory moved forward, because finding another way to foot the center’s bill continually bedeviled those officials intent on providing the amenity, an aide to the governor said.

“This Brooklyn armory was a plan that was proposed for years, and has not been built. Why? Because they don’t have sufficient funding,” said Alphonso David, an attorney for Cuomo. “It’s as simple as that. The governor did not have to provide the $15 million, but, without that, there would be no recreation center.”

Cumbo admitted to not knowing where money for the rec center would come from when she pushed BFC to kill its planned condos, but said she approved of the scheme even with the deficit because not doing so would deprive Crown Heights youngsters with a much-needed public space.

“One of the largest African-American communities in the country doesn’t have a recreation center for youth,” she said.

But losing the for-sale units and their expected revenue actually provided an opportunity to recoup that cash from Albany, according to the councilwoman, who said BFC applied for the rec-center funding via a state development grant that lawmakers approved once the builder axed the condos, after rejecting a previous application it submitted when they were still part of the redevelopment plan.

“The elected officials didn’t feel comfortable supporting the project, so the governor’s office didn’t want to release that funding,” said Cumbo. “But once the condos came off the table, that we were able to finally secure.”

Cuomo, who announced the $15-million contribution on the day of the West Indian Day Parade, also revealed the rec center will be named for his deceased aide Carey Gabay, who was shot and killed during the pre-parade J’Ouvert festivities in 2015.

And a foundation Gabay’s widow established after he died will operate out of the center, carrying her late husband’s commitment to community service, she said.

“I’m thankful that my husband’s legacy will continue changing and touching lives,” said Trenelle Gabay.

BFC is still securing the necessary permits required to break ground at the armory, which it plans to do sometime this fall, Spokony said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.