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Hoses to horns - Brooklyn Philharmonic to move into shuttered firehouse

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From the shrill blaring of a hook and ladder siren to the subtle sounds of a string quartet.

The city last week tapped the Brooklyn Philharmonic (BP) to redevelop the shuttered Engine 204 Firehouse at 299 DeGraw Street and turn it into a home for their orchestra and to serve as a community cultural center.

“To have been awarded the DeGraw Street Firehouse is a milestone for the Brooklyn Philharmonic and will be transformative for our institution and our partner, the Brooklyn-based arts and education organization CREATE!,” said Brooklyn Philharmonic Chairman J. Barclay Collins II.

The announcement, which came from the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC), ends a sordid and controversial chapter of the property, in which the city closed the firehouse in 2003.

Similarly, another firehouse at 134 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg was also closed and is being redeveloped by a nonprofit organization.

In the last few years, many local elected officials and community activists including City Councilmembers David Yassky and Bill de Blasio, Assemblymember Joan Millman and Borough President Marty Markowitz, decried the closures, saying it made the neighborhood less safe.

There was even a 2003 protest at the DeGraw Street site, in which Millman and de Blasio were arrested.

However, the Bloomberg administration and the local elected officials finally came to a compromise where the city agreed to lease, but not sell the property.

The EDC than put out a Requests For Proposals (RFP) to convert and occupy the city-owned property rather than sell it, said Millman spokesperson Paul Nelson.

“We’re glad it’s being used by a community group and it’s only a five-year lease with an option for another five years. We do have a shortage of space for artists and non-profits groups,” said Nelson.

Markowitz spokesperson Laura Sinagra said the borough president had some concerns early on and wanted to make sure the city was taking into account the safety of residents.

As the process evolved, Markowitz was also open to other creative uses of these spaces generated by the communities and he is satisfied with the current decision regarding the firehouses, said Sinagra.

“There’s no doubt in his mind that as these neighborhoods grow, there will be a need for new firehouses. That was his initial concern and he made it clear to the city, but the city went ahead and he is pleased with their choice of tenants,” said Sinagra.

Under the RFP, the Brooklyn Philharmonic will invest about $2.6 million to occupy the 4,250 square-foot, two-story DeGraw Street firehouse and redevelop the building into the BP Music Center.

This includes administrative offices for the orchestra and its multi-disciplinary arts partner, CREATE!

The project will also provide space for community-oriented music and arts events and for activities such as professional development workshops, master classes, rehearsals for music school programs and performance ensembles.

Founded in 1954, the BP is Brooklyn’s only professional orchestra. It comprises tenured freelance musicians, with activities that include Brooklyn Academy of Music and community performances, as well as education and social service programs.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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