CB6 approves reuse of shuttered Degraw St. engine company • Brooklyn Paper

CB6 approves reuse of shuttered Degraw St. engine company

The firehouse on Degraw Street between Court and Smith streets will be leased from the city by the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

It was a bittersweet symphony last week, as a decommissioned firehouse moved ahead toward a new life as the home of an arts group, even as some neighbors of the Degraw Street engine company still object that it was shuttered by the Fire Department in the first place.

By an 11-2 margin, Community Board 6’s Land Use/Landmarks Committee approved a lease last week for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, which will occupy the former home of Engine Company 204 between Court and Smith streets.

The group will rent the space from the city for $1 a year for 10 years — but the community board panel support was conditioned on the group setting aside $5,000 a month for building maintenance. The city has allocated $1.6 million to refurbish the building for the Philharmonic.

That allocation was immediately seized upon by opponents of the deal.

“Why isn’t the city giving $1.8 million to [keep open] the firehouse?” said committee member Lou Sones, who added that supporting the Philharmonic’s “BP Music Center” plan was antithetical to a previous position taken by the board, which argued that the space should be restored as a firehouse.

Sones argued that the city has skewed priorities — handing out tickets and citations to everyday residents and businesses, while allowing an arts group to occupy prime real estate for $1 a year.

Committee member Jerry Armer made the safety argument.

“As much as I like the Philharmonic, I don’t like the idea of [it] occupying firehouses,” he said. “The money could be spent better somewhere else — maybe saving another fire company.”

But member Elly Spicer approved of the new use, as well as the way the building’s facade would remain intact. “This is a great idea and a proper use of the building without major change.”

The city was singing from the same choir book.

“It is absolutely critical that the city support cultural institutions,” said EDC spokesman Josh Nachowitz. “Even with the fiscal crisis, we still support groups like the Brooklyn Philharmonic.”

For its part, the Philharmonic has raised $200,000, according to Greg Pierson, the group’s executive director.

The BP Music Center, which could open as early as 2012, will house programs for public and parochial schools throughout the borough.

“We plan a community space to provide arts education classes and space for meetings and public events,” Pierson said. “Obviously, we can’t replace a fire station.”

The space will also be used for performances by a string quartet, but the space is not large enough for an orchestra, he said.

Some committee members complained that the Philharmonic is so cash-strapped that it had to cancel performances last year. But city officials said they were not worried.

“We believe we will be successful,” said Donald Elliott, the vice chair of the Philharmonic’s board of directors. “But unfortunately, there are no guarantees.”

The full Community Board 6 will discuss the matter at its next meeting at PS 32 [317 Hoyt St. between Union and President streets in Boerum Hill, (718) 643-3027 on April 14.

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