On Monday morning elected officials, community leaders and neighborhood residents gathered outside the now-defunct Engine Co. 212 firehouse on Wythe in Williamsburg to celebrate a significant and much-needed infusion of funds into what will soon be the neighborhood’s social, political and cultural meeting ground: the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz pledged to donate $742,000 to the project, in addition to the $150,000 from Assemblyman Joe Lentol and a promise of $350,000 from Councilmember Stephen Levin.
Once it is completed, the NSTHCC will serve as a multi-purpose community complex complete with space for artists to display their work and political, social and cultural groups to hold meetings, fundraisers and events. The Center will also serve as home to two community groups instrumental in its establishment: Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and the People’s Firehouse.
Though donations from local elected officials help maintain the hope and promise of the NSTHCC, it has been a long, hard battle for the Greenpoint/Williamsburg community beginning long before the firehouse was shuttered in 2003, and it is not over yet. In order to begin construction on the site, proprietors of the Center must first secure roughly $2 million. As the dream of the Center creeps closer to becoming a reality, those who have fought tirelessly to preserve the Firehouse are increasingly hopeful.
“This is unbelievably exciting, and a bittersweet satisfaction for this entire community,” said Felice Kirby, the vice president of the NSTHCC. “The Firehouse was the site of the one event that transformed this community—it was one of several firehouses, baby clinics and libraries that were closed. But the community stood up and said no, and it stayed open until 2003. We’ve been working towards this for two years. We’re ecstatic.”
Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Borough President Marty Markowitz were on hand to lend their congratulations, and pledge their support for the NSTHCC.
“This project defines Brooklyn,” Markowitz said. “Brooklyn is a people’s borough, and there’s no better place than the People’s Firehouse.”
The firehouse was under the threat of closure 34 years ago, but due to a group of dedicated community activists, the station remained open until 2003. Seven years later, the community can celebrate a new victory as it begins its transformation into its newest incarnation: a community center.
“34 years ago, we didn’t just sit there: We became a community group. It was the town hall. We’re trying to do that again now, but with the new community, and not under siege,” said Doug Teague, who is on the board of NSTHCC, and serves as treasurer. “This isn’t just a firehouse, this became a community center. This is where people would come for help with problems, seek solace or a sense of community—to be a part of the solution.”