Refuge on the market: Fort Greene community center’s days numbered, officials say

Refuge on the market: Fort Greene community center’s days numbered, officials say
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A Fort Greene building that has housed daycare and senior centers for four decades is up for rent to the highest bidder because the city failed to reach a lease renewal deal, according to administrators of the city-funded programs.

The upheaval comes over the protest of 75 neighborhood children, seniors, jazz musicians, and officials who rallied outside City Hall on Monday afternoon, demanding city managers save the Fort Greene Council’s 43-year-old community center at 966-972 Fulton St. The landlord had said he would open up bidding if the city did not agree to a lease by Monday night, which pols on hand said city negotiators had a moral obligation to.

“The services provided by the Fort Greene Council are incredibly important for our community,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, the neighborhood’s former councilwoman. “Hundreds of seniors, children, and families depend on this center. The city must find funding to keep this — and other centers like it — open.”

The building is home to the Grace A. Harewood Senior Center and the Young Minds Day Care Center, which the Fort Greene Council says serve about 200 people per day, as well as Jazz 966, a jazz club that runs out of the senior center on Friday nights. The lease is coming up and the city has balked at the landlord’s increase, which is still well below market rate, the group’s reps have said.

The area’s current councilwoman said it is not too late for the city to step in and save the center.

“We have to make sure this lease is renegotiated,” Laurie Cumbo said. “I never enter a battle I don’t intend on winning!”

The man who runs Jazz 966 said the rally’s turnout was encouraging, and an extension of the lively spirit at the club that has hosted such greats as Wynton Marsalis.

“This afternoon will go down in history,” Valle says. “[Jazz 966] is a place that swings and that’s a fact.”

Some regular performers turned out to show their support for the venue.

“We can’t lose this,” jazz vocalist Steve Cromity said.

At one point, Mayor DeBlasio walked past the protest, and demonstrators buttonholed him, demanding he address the problem. Hizzoner said he needed more information before he could respond.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services said last week that negotiations are still ongoing, but that officials are not yet close to reaching a deal.

On Tuesday morning, the Fort Greene Council’s chairman and executive director said no deal had been reached.

Despite the optimism of rally attendees, the chairman, Sam Pinn, said that the situation is dire, as the landlord is already preparing signs to advertise the property and the city’s administrative agency has reduced its lease request for the daycare center from three years to one.

“It appears to have gotten worse,” he said.

The Fort Greene Council director concurred, saying that building owner Jim Argento wants the group to remain where it is, but can’t agree to the city’s low offers.

“Negotiations are not going well,” Claudette Macey said. “The landlord wants us to stay here but he can’t wait.”