New York Armory New Balance Track & Field Center
Since opening its doors in 1909, the New York Armory has been a home to thousands of athletes, with documented events taking place as early as 1914. World records were broken in the 1920s and 1930s as Olympians and world-class runners competed. Famous people such as Carl Lewis and many others were regularly seen challenging their times at the Armory.
Originally built: 1909
Seating: over 4,000
Annual participants: 125,000 students
Funds raised: Originally $24 million. Currently over $50 million
Feature: Home of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame
Total square footage: 150,000 - 60,000 for New Balance Track & Field Center
Homeless shelter: 200 men
Over the years, the building had fallen into disrepair. But in 1993 everything changed when Dr. Norbert Sander and Michael Frankfurt, Esq., turned a vision into reality. Today, over 125,000 students train and compete every year at the busiest indoor track in the United States.
Decades ago, all the armories were built for the military. These were also where the National Guard trained on weekends. The middle level of these buildings was called the Drill Floor. It had to be substantial enough to handle howitzers, jeeps and heavy equipment.
“When the administration at the City of New York gave us the keys in 1993 to start renovations, there were 2,000 homeless men using the Armory as a shelter,” says Michael Frankfurt. “The City moved them to other locations and we began the work to transform the building to what it is today.”
In a league of their own
The initial vision for the project went beyond competitions. “We wanted to build a comprehensive community center for the youth of the city,” says Norbert Sander. “The programs focus around a premier athletics and track and field program, but extend far beyond that area. We want to motivate and stimulate students, and broaden their horizons. We have academic programs that complement their regular education with a goal to getting them into college.”
This is one of the few permanent track & field facilities in this region. “Most of the others are configured around a basketball court, or other activities. For example, at Madison Square Gardens they set up a track once a year and the remainder of the time there are other events happening. The Armory is dedicated to track, and track alone.”
It's a miracle
Soon the Armory became known as “The Miracle on 168th St.” as the facility was revitalized to its former reputation as a world class track center, drawing athletes from around the world. “It became the place all the runners want to come because of the Mondo track, which gives them better times,” says Frankfurt.
Today, the Mondo Super X track at the Armory is on the third floor of a four storey building. The mezzanine on the 4th floor circles the track with 4,000 seats. On the 2nd floor, two long areas allow athletes warm up before they go to the third floor for competitions. Also on the 2nd floor is the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
“The college meet we have every year – which is the biggest one in the country – brings runners who are hoping to qualify for the NCAA. They are successful in their goal, largely because of the Mondo track.”
Another indication of the facility’s growth is its latest addition to the schedule – the Millrose Games. “This is the most famous indoor track meet in the world,” says Frankfurt. “For the last 105 years, it was held at Madison Square Gardens. In 2012 this prestigious event was held at the New York Armory, which will now be the permanent home for the meet.”
Athletes at the top of their game also want to make the New York Armory a regular stop. “It is a world-class level facility to the extent that Olympians are requesting usage of the track, for both meets and practice,” says Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins, who was also the director of track & field and educational development at the Armory. “A few years ago, Olympians started asking us if they could have meets here. It was built mainly for high school and some college use, but athletes at all levels recognize the quality of the building.”
Raising millions and more
In order to achieve the renovations and develop and maintain programs the Armory is now famous for, a significant fundraising effort began in 1993. Within 13 years The Armory Foundation raised $24 million through private and public funding. That figure rose to $50 million by 2012.
“We have four sources of income,” says Sander. “For example, we have 105 track meets each year that all pay a fee. Then there are our commercial sponsors who are all very important. And, of course, there are public grants and private donors. Our partnership with New Balance is pivotal. Over the years, I have nurtured a relationship with Jim Davis, the CEO of New Balance. New Balance has been a tremendous partner in the growth of the Armory.”
Another significant partner with the Armory is the New York Roadrunners. “This is the organization that runs the New York City Marathon. With the success of the this marathon, we have been able to expand our vision here, thanks to the club’s president and CEO, Mary Wittenberg. This support is not only of running, but it acknowledges the impact on 6- and 7-year-old kids in grammar school and on the College Prep Program. The Roadrunners, along with New Balance, are the two sponsors who allow us to thrive and grow.”
Armory College Prep Program
Armory College Prep was founded by Olympic gold medalist Derrick Adkins and is now led by Aliann Pompey. This program serves New York City high school student-athletes in need of a helping hand, to realize their full potential. In 2012, about 250 students will receive the academic support, individual counseling and encouragement necessary to gain admission to college and a clear picture on how to pay for it.
At Armory College Prep students apply the skills they acquire as athletes – discipline, dedication and hard work. This helps to overcome the hurdles they face on the path to academic and social success. It also benefits both the students and their communities. More than 95 percent of all Armory Prep students go on to college. Many are the first in their families to do so.