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Development begins on long-awaited Shirley Chisholm Rec Center in East Flatbush

Mayor Bill de Blasio presents a giant check for $141 million to local Flatbush electeds for the new Shirley Chisholm Rec Center.
Screenshot via Mayor's Office

After years of negotiations, a new community center is finally coming to East Flatbush — and it will bear the name of one of Brooklyn’s proudest civic leaders, former Brooklyn Congressmember Shirley Chisholm.

Procurement is now officially underway for the $141 million project, which will be located in a 65,000-square-foot facility atop what’s currently a turf field at the Nostrand Playground on Farragut Place, between East 31st and East 32nd streets, next door to PS 269. Completion of the facility, which is being funded with capital dollars reallocated from the NYPD budget last year, is expected in 2025.

The Shirley Chisholm Recreation Center will include an indoor pool, indoor track, a basketball court, and a gym where kids can take classes in disciplines like yoga, spin, and martial arts, according to one of the center’s top boosters, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.

“Today we start a new chapter for this neighborhood and this borough,” Bichotte Hermelyn said at a Tuesday ceremony celebrating the project’s liftoff.

It will also include a kitchen where students can learn how to prepare healthy meals, space for senior programming, and a tech and business incubator named for the late Roy Hastick, president of the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and an iconic booster of Brooklyn entrepreneurship and small businesses.

“The children of this community…they deserve a world-class facility,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the ceremony. “As good a facility as you will find anywhere in New York City, something for everyone to be proud of. Because that communicates to our young people, when you invest, people can feel it, when our young people see that their city loves them and cares for them and is giving them everything, it says to them they are valued.”

Nostrand Playground, where the center will be built.NYC Parks

Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to run for president, represented Central Brooklyn in the nation’s capital from 1969 to 1983, and burnished a reputation as a fierce advocate for her community and for civil rights. She was the main force behind passing Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in educational funding, securing a minimum wage for domestic workers (then, and now, a group largely consisting of women of color), and was instrumental in making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday.

Chisholm’s stature has only grown since her retirement from politics and her death in 2005, and she is now one of the most celebrated figures in Brooklyn history. Besides the planned rec center, her name now adorns Shirley Chisholm State Park near Starrett City and the Gateway Center, and a giant, 40-foot statue of the iconic pol at the southern end of Prospect Park has been in the works for years, though it has blown past its intended 2020 completion date and its timeline is currently unclear.

Associated Press/James Palmer

East Flatbush community members have long sought a rec center in the neighborhood; the nearest Parks Dept rec centers are the Brownsville Rec Center and the St. John’s Rec Center in Crown Heights, both about three-and-a-half miles away in different directions.

Discussions to build a rec center in East Flatbush named for Chisholm kicked off in 2012 under then-Councilmember Jumaane Williams, now the city’s public advocate and a candidate for governor. The project officially got the green light in 2017, but switched locations from its original planned perch at Tilden Playground, a mile-and-a-half away near the Holy Cross Cemetery, after community members lodged objections to Williams’ successor, incumbent Councilmember Farah Louis.

On Tuesday, the mayor credited Louis’ persistence in demanding a community center for her district’s youth for getting it funded.

“[Louis] very persistently fought for this, and reminded me wherever I went, even when I did not want to talk about this topic, she made sure that we did talk about this topic,” Hizzoner said with the councilmember at his side.

Louis said that she hopes the new community center will serve as a community hub for people of all the many shapes and sizes that call Flatbush home, and particularly that it might serve as a deterrent against violence or other unfortunate paths.

“The impact of this center…will go beyond sports and entertainment,” Louis said. “By building the character of our young people, creating spaces for teamwork and a deeper sense of community. This is how we occupy our blocks. This is how we stop the shooting and save lives.”

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