The public finally got inside the Park Slope Armory last Thursday.
Unfortunately, the public consisted of me and my senior editor, Vince DiMiceli.
We got the tour as part of the city’s effort to convince the public that the long-awaited, lavishly renovated armory on Eighth Avenue would soon open as a spectacular, YMCA-run recreation center for schoolkids and neighbors.
There’s no denying that this project has been long awaited: The city’s $16-million renovation of the former 14th Regiment Armory was completed in 2007, but since then, the building has remained unused, except by the existing women’s shelter and a veteran’s group that has also had space inside for years.
And I can confirm that the armory was lavishly renovated. As someone who’s been inside the building, you certainly won’t hear any qualms from me about what a great facility it will be (with the minor caveat that there are no showers).
The armory has been stuck in bureaucratic turnaround for so long that most Park Slopers don’t think it will actually open. Part of the blame for that belongs to the Department of Education, which initially pledged some money because its schoolkids would use the facility during the day. When those city funds dried up, potential private operators ran for the hills.
And the rest of the blame falls on the Department of Homeless Services, which, whatever good it does for people without a roof over their heads, is not in the business of operating recreation centers and should not have been put there.
After what seemed like years — because it actually was years — the Prospect Park YMCA was named the winning bidder and will operate the facility once Homeless Services hands over the keys.
We’ve been told that it’s imminent. We’ve been told that before.
But here’s what we know: When the Armory opens, the YMCA needs about 2,500 members to cover its $1-million operational budget, said Sean Andrews, executive director.
Those paying members will subsidize a world of good that the Y wants to provide: senior programs, exercise programs for kids, reduced-cost memberships for low-income families, art programs, and other great things.
But without operating cash from the city, Andrews will have to sell a lot of $40-per-month memberships at a gym without showers and whose main recreational area is off limits from 9 am-2 pm every day.
If this project fails, most Park Slopers know that it won’t be Andrews’s fault.