Williamsburg’s Engine 212, “The People’s Firehouse” took a major step forward in its quest to become North Brooklyn’s Town Hall and Community and Cultural Center (NTHCCC). The firehouse, so nicknamed after protests and an 18-month-long occupation by local residents, saved the company from budget cuts during the 1970s, eventually fell victim to the budget ax in 2003, and was put up for auction by the city.
Community members, however, nipped that plan in the bud. With the help of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, they convinced the city not to sell the Wythe Street building, but instead allow it to continue serving North Brooklyn. The proposal from two community groups, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) and People’s Firehouse, Inc. (PFI), who responded to the city’s request for proposal (RFP), was chosen and the NTHCCC was on its way.
It’s been three years of fighting to raise the nearly $2 million needed for the project. Despite the generosity of local businessmen, including Norm Brodsky of CitiStorage, Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery and the Argentos of Broadway Stages and successful fundraisers, most notably TASTE Williamsburg Greenpoint, which raised nearly $80,000 on September 18th, funding for the project remained short.
On Tuesday, September 27th, Markowitz, Councilmember Steve Levin and Assemblyman Joe Lentol joined Brodsky, Hindy and reps from PFI and NAG to announce that funds they had secured for the project had come through. The $742,000 from Markowitz and Levin’s $350,000 will provide more than two-thirds of the total construction and development funds for the future public meeting space, arts and performance venue and permanent home to community organizations, including PFI and NAG. Lentol had previously secured funds for the site, including the first money raised, which opened the door for additional funding. “My hat’s off to Borough President Marty Markowitz and Councilmember Steve Levin for coming through with some much needed funding. The North Side Town Hall has been our dream for years and, with this money, we are one step closer to making that dream a reality,” said Lentol.
“Our local artists define the creative capital of New York,” said Markowitz. ““Someday in the not-very-distant future, the Northside Town Hall Community and Cultural Center will be a hub of activity for all of North Brooklyn – a place for families and kids, a place where organizations and nonprofits can find affordable office and meeting space, and a place for local artists to exhibit their work.”
Levin acknowledged the years of fighting that have gone into funding and building the NTHCCC. “The Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods are infused with the spirit of community engagement and I can’t imagine that the future Town Hall will be anything less than the full reflection of those values,” he said. “That’s the kind of activism we can look back on and say ‘that’s our heritage.’”
Alma Savoia, who serves on the Board of Directors of PFI, likens her group’s perseverance to the protesters who occupied Engine 212 during the ‘70s. “Those people lived there for almost two years and they did not give up. That’s what that building stands for,” she said. Savoia identified with Brodsky’s comments that the firehouse represents tenacity, reminding all comers to never give up. That’s the name of game, said Savoia “It’s like the Bruce Springsteen song: No retreat – no surrender.”
Said NTHCCC Chair Del Teague, “The Town Hall will serve as a much-needed home base to our rapidly growing neighborhood, and stand for generations as a reminder of past battles won, hardship endured, and a future forged, together.”