More money to turn ‘People’s Firehouse’ into town hall

A fledgling community center project in Williamsburg collected nearly $900,000 in commitments of public money from local officials on Monday — not bad for a day’s work.

Borough President Markowitz allocated $742,000 to the Northside Town Hall and Community Center to help transform the shuttered Engine 212 — the so-called People’s Firehouse — into a vibrant three-story public meeting and arts space.

Markowitz’s award, in addition to a $150,000 commitment of public money from Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Williamsburg) and a $350,000 future pledge from Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg), will help the Wythe Avenue town hall reach half its fundraising goal of $2 million.

Community leaders who had been protesting in front of the firehouse when the city ordered its closure seven years ago suddenly found themselves celebrating.

“Of course, we’re thrilled!” said Felice Kirby, owner of Teddy’s Restaurant on N. Eighth Street. “We’re grateful for the Borough President’s generous gift.”

The money will largely be used to renovate the building, adding a new boiler, plumbing and electrical systems, and an extension to the roof on the third floor, though the façade of the firehouse, its fire pole, and most of its structure will remain largely intact.

The building’s interior will be partitioned to provide office and conference room space for a number of community groups, including Neighbors Allied for Good Growth that will eventually operate out of the space, and continue providing a gallery space for neighborhood artists as it has this past summer.

“Any group in the neighborhood that needs a space to meet will have access and space,” said Community Board 1 member and Northside board member Del Teague. “It will be used as a town hall for politicians to hold forums and as an outlet for artists and performances.”

People’s Firehouse Executive Director Kurt Thomas, who has hoped to reopen the firehouse, was excited for the grant, but urged city leaders to consider opening an actual firehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront in the near future.

“We need a ladder company and an engine company,” said Thomas. “Once we get this project underway, then we can locate a new firehouse on the waterfront, perhaps near the intake L-train subway station, within the next couple of years.”