Armory discussion continues

City debate about how to best utilize the Goffe Street Armory continued at a public hearing on Tuesday night.

The committee formed this summer to create a plan for the Armory listened to community groups and residents’ suggestions about how to use the space. Some of those who attended the meeting said they wanted to see the armory as a space with programming solely for New Haven youth and shared ideas about how to raise revenue to keep the space sustainable, while others stressed that any new uses should collaborate with existing programs.

The building was last used by two National Guard units over four years ago, and since $2.8 million was approved for repairing the armory, a committee created by the Board has been holding public hearings about how to best use the space. The building also needs to be repaired, and according to the city’s chief administrative officer Robert Smuts ’01, rehabilitation could take anywhere from 15 to 18 months.

Rachel Heerema, the executive director of the Citywide Youth Coalition, said she supported the work the committee was doing and suggested including a library branch, coffee shop or musical recording spaces in the armory.

“In general, the coalition stands for more safe space for young people with high-quality programming and more effective services,” Heerema said. “Young people need more opportunities and spaces to explore talents like music, arts and sports.”

Heerema also said that there was potential for entrepreneurship within the space. Stephanie Barnes, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of New Haven, added that the committee should keep in mind that the armory is located in a primarily residential area, although it is still possible to create a small business hub at the armory.

Melissa Huber, the producer of the International Festival of Arts and Ideas, said that she was interested in being able to use the armory as a space to host its events. She added that the festival was a way to make New Haven a destination and support both local and international artists.

Ward 28 Alderman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, who is one of two organizers of the committee, pointed out at the meeting that having other groups rent out the space would bring in revenue.

Two people who testified said that they wanted the space to be primarily for youth. Don Dimenstein, former director of the city’s Department of Elderly Services, emphasized that youth need a space dedicated solely to themselves and that seniors already have other spaces.

Those in attendance also discussed the importance of taking advantage of and supporting already existing programs. Esther Massie, the executive director of Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership, a nonprofit and youth development organization, said that the committee should think about how to bolster existing programs.

“There are programs that already exist and are doing really good work in New Haven that are addressing the critical needs of children,” Massie said. “But some of them don’t have after-school programs, or have limited hours, or limited librarians, and all of that points to the idea that new space is not necessarily the main issue when it comes to supporting the needs of people in New Haven, but that funding always is an issue.”

Darryl Brackeen, a New Haven resident, agreed with the necessity of evaluating existing programs and finding new ways to collaborate with those programs.

“I’m not advocating for any new programs: We have more than enough and I believe we have many effective people that have been around for a long time, and they should come together,” he said. “This is the time to do it. We have a building sitting there and it’s losing revenue as we wait.”

Along with Robinson-Thorpe, Ward 1 Aldermen Sarah Eidelson ’12 is an organizer of the committee.

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