Affordable Housing Coming to Jail Site in the Bronx’s Hunts Point

The old Spofford Juvenile Detention Center was closed in 2011

By KEIKO MORRIS
October 26, 2016

A once notorious juvenile detention facility in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx will be the site of a new project anchored by affordable housing, in a plan scheduled to be detailed Thursday by New York City officials.

A cell at the old Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, which was built in 1957 in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, eventually renamed Bridges Juvenile Center and closed in 2011. New York City plans to develop the site for new project with affordable housing.  ANDREW LAMBERSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A cell at the old Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, which was built in 1957 in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, eventually renamed Bridges Juvenile Center and closed in 2011. New York City plans to develop the site for new project with affordable housing. ANDREW LAMBERSON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Spofford Juvenile Detention Center was built in 1957 and closed in 2011.

“In many ways, it was not just a symbol of how juvenile justice from a policy point of view was performed throughout the decades, but also the historic, negative stigma and perception of the area that was embodied in that building,” said Maria Torres-Springer, president and chief executive of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which oversaw the selection process.

Gilbane Development Co., the Hudson Cos. and Mutual Housing Association of New York came together to submit the winning proposal, called the Peninsula LLC.

The plans for the 5-acre site include 740 units of affordable housing, 52,000 square feet of open and recreational space, 49,000 square feet of light industrial space, 48,000 square feet devoted to community facilities such as a health-service provider and 21,000 square feet of retail space. A bakery, bank and supermarket are planned, with food-production facilities playing a significant role.

The five-building project is expected to cost about $300 million and be completed by 2024 over three phases, according to the Economic Development Corporation.

The city closed Spofford after concerns about the treatment of youth were raised and the juvenile detention population was decreasing, a spokesman for the New York City Administration for Children’s services said in an email.

“The closing was consistent with ACS’ [Administration for Children’s Services] goal to dismantle a punishment-based system that removed children from their families and community support systems, and enact a rehabilitative model of juvenile justice,” he said.

For decades, the detention facility overshadowed the area, local groups said.

Now, the Point Community Development Corporation, located a few blocks from the dormant detention facility, is in discussions to manage about 15,000 square feet of artist space in the project. The organization is hoping that it can bring back a dance company that moved because of rising rents, said Maria Torres, president of the corporation.

A rendering of the Peninsula, which proposes 740 units of affordable housing, 49,000 square feet of light industrial space and more. PHOTO: WXY ARCHITECTURE+ URBAN DESIGN
A rendering of the Peninsula, which proposes 740 units of affordable housing, 49,000 square feet of light industrial space and more. PHOTO: WXY ARCHITECTURE+ URBAN DESIGN

“Finally we are going to create a new space that is a positive space that hopefully supports the community and also gets people from outside to look at Hunts Point differently,” Ms. Torres said.

Affordable housing and jobs will be important as the proposal works through the public process, said Wanda Salaman, director of Mothers on the Move, a local community group. “Let’s build the Bronx for people who live in the Bronx,” she said.

Spofford, which was later renamed Bridges Juvenile Center, touched youth from across the city, held while being processed for offenses small and large. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said he spent one night there as a teen, after detectives arrested him and his brother for criminal trespassing, and he has never forgotten it. “Hopefully it can be a symbol of what we can become and not [of] what we were,” Mr. Adams said, referring to the new project.

Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Spofford was modeled on big, centralized detention centers that were rooted in the 19th century, he said. It was part of an era when “detention centers had become a way of punishing people even before they went to court,” Mr. Butts said.

Modern programs emphasize smaller facilities and using methods such as monitoring with bracelets or having defendants checking in with phone calls while waiting for court proceedings.

The weight of the site’s dark history wasn’t lost on the developers. The complex’s affordable housing mix includes apartments designated for moderate income levels, providing potential spending for the local businesses included in the project, said Aaron Koffman, a principal at Hudson Companies. “The whole neighborhood is going to go on a different path,” he said.

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