Armory President Dr. Norbert Sander and Armory Executive Vice President Jonathan Schindel talk about what the proposed Yonkers Sports & Event Center would mean for the city and area athletics.
A proposed $25 million sports and entertainment center in downtown Yonkers received a major boost Thursday with a $2 million award from the state Regional Economic Development Council.
The 137,000-square-foot center, known at the Yonkers Sports & Event Center, would be built two blocks from the Hudson River, above the existing Kawasaki rail car building at 29 Wells Avenue, an area abutting new restaurants and housing.
The center would include a one-story, 5,000-to-6,000-seat track and field complex. Its 200-meter hydraulic indoor track could be used as either a banked track or flat track.
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The track’s center area would have a removable court to host high school basketball and volleyball games and high school wrestling, as well as potentially holiday collegiate tournaments, according to Dr. Norbert Sander, head of the non-profit Armory Foundation, the center’s developer.
That area would also be used for concerts, exhibitions and conventions.
While plans are fluid, the three-story facility, located above the southern end of the Kawasaki building, is currently planned to include meeting rooms, a fitness studio (with track access for members), athletic store and restaurant and would have a 20,000-square-foot educational center to help students from the cash-strapped Yonkers School District and from other local areas get into college.
That could be run by the Armory Foundation, which already runs an identical program in New York City for track and field athletes, or by another group, including Yonkers Partners in Education, which is seeking a new home and has spoken to the Foundation.
“This has got to be a showpiece for Yonkers because that’s what’s going to make it work, in my view,” said Sander, who mentioned the center potentially hosting state, as well as county high school championships for indoor sports.
“There’s nothing like this from here to Albany. This has to be terrific to bring more business to downtown Yonkers,” he added, saying it would be “invaluable to Yonkers and all Hudson Valley residents.”
Hastings resident Dr. Norbert Sander has much to be happy about after his project to build a sports and entertainment center in Yonkers was awarded a $2 million state grant Thursday. (Photo: Nancy HaggertyThe Journal News)
Of track and field, Sander, the winner of the men’s 1974 New York City Marathon title, said, “We want to lift the sport and expand the sport.”
“When I grew up in Yonkers, every high school had a team and there was a city championship at War Memorial Field. Yonkers had some of the best track in Westchester back then,” Sander said, lamenting budget cuts have resulted in all Yonkers’ high schools competing as one team.
Sander said the state award gave the project “legitimacy,” allowing for “very aggressive fundraising efforts” and allowing the Foundation to proceed with further architectural work and engineering studies.
The building is being designed by architects Alfredo Brillembourg and Diego Ceresuela. Sander termed the Switzerland-based Brillembourg, who has developed multiple sports facilities around the world but not yet in the United States, a “really futuristic guy and socially very progressive.”
Both architects have made numerous site visits, he said. Their plan calls for steel structural supports to extend from the ground outside the existing building, as well as some possibly extending from existing supports at the top of building.
Much of the project’s funding is due to come from government sources, with the Armory Foundation planning to ask the REDC for another $2 million next year. The Foundation expects to contribute $2.5 million through private fundraising and another $3.6 million is expected from commercial sponsors.
The project still needs to go through environmental review and traffic and parking studies and ultimately will require Yonkers Planning Board Approval.
Considering that and the grants and fundraising that will be required, Sander said, “We are far, far away from making this happen.”
Still, he appeared optimistic, saying construction could begin as early as this summer, with a planned opening in late 2018, in time for the 2018-19 high school indoor track and field season.
Sander, 74, a City Island internist, with deep family roots in Yonkers, lives in Hastings. He developed and oversees The Armory, the large indoor track and field complex located in northern Manhattan, which hosts the Millrose Games, the New Balance Indoor Nationals, collegiate meets and the bulk of area high school indoor meets.
Currently, Section 1 high school teams compete largely at the Armory, which is on Fort Washington Avenue, although some meets are held at Rockland Community College and occasionally at the year-old Ocean Breeze Track and Field Complex on Staten Island.
Jonathan Schindel, The Armory Foundation’s executive vice president, said companies familiar with The Armory have already approached the Foundation about possibly securing building naming rights or securing advertising inside the proposed facility.
“High school and college kids are the most valuable demographic to sponsors,” he said. “They have lifelong purchasing in front of them.”
The idea of building Westchester’s first indoor track facility emanated from Joseph Cotter, president of National Resources, a development firm that has given the Yonkers waterfront a major facelift. National Resources owns the Kawasaki building.
According to Sander, Cotter’s firm will donate the air space above the building to the project. Its value is listed at $5 million.
While Cotter initially approached Sander about building a bubble for track atop the building, Sander looked for a larger project to make the venture profitable.
He noted the Armory relies on other uses to subsidize its track and field use.
“Track is not self-sustaining. We have to scramble to raise money,” he said.
With its own expos, concerts and more, the potential revenue from the Yonkers project appears large.
According to the proposal, the center should attract 100,000 visitors annually and generate more than $1 million a year in “tourism-related revenue.”
But Sander, who noted New York City estimates The Armory generates $15 million to $20 million annually for the city, said the Yonkers project could generate as much as $5 million per year, depending on what events are held.
The project is also expected to create 230 construction jobs and an estimated 150 permanent jobs.
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