A Fort Greene community center could soon be without a home.
The 43-year-old Fort Greene Council, which runs youth and senior programs, as well as a jazz club out of its Fulton Street digs, is in danger of losing the building because the city is dragging its heels over a lease renewal. At a community forum in the building last week, the group’s chairman said time is running out.
“We’re in a crisis situation,” said Sam Pinn, who helped found the Council. “This is a neighborhood institution serving seniors and children from 2 to 13 years old, and providing cultural entertainment. We’re now at a point where all this is in jeopardy.”
The Fort Greene Council receives funding from several city agencies, including the Department for the Aging, the Administration for Children’s Services, and the Department of Youth and Community Development. The city holds the lease for the four-story property at 966–972 Fulton St., between Cambridge Place and Grand Avenue, which has been owned by PV Associates since 1975. The landlord currently gets around $530,000 per year for the property, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.
That is less than half of the market rate for similar properties in the area, according Chris Havens, a commercial broker for aptsa
“It’s not a question of a specific number,” Havens said. “It’s more about finding space. There’s just not anything like that anywhere around there.”
The city will not say how much of an increase the landlord is seeking, but Pinn called it “moderate,” and the landlord says he wants to keep the Council in its space.
“We have a wonderful relationship with the Fort Greene Council, and [have] for quite a long time. We’d like nothing more than to extend their lease,” Jim Argento said.
If he means it, the city should do what it can to keep the facility where it is, Havens said.
“Any tenant that can make that deal should make that deal,” he said. “Brooklyn just doesn’t have that much commercial space.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which handles city leasing, said negotiations are ongoing, but that officials are not yet close to reaching a deal.
“DCAS and the landlord have exchanged several proposals, but are still far apart on agreeing on a rent per square foot,” said Cathy Hanson, spokeswoman for the department.
About 80 seniors use the Grace A. Harewood Senior Center each day, and 120 students attend the Young Minds Day Care Center, according to management. But more than low-impact aerobics and finger-painting classes are at stake. On Fridays, a room in the senior center is transformed into Jazz 966, a swinging nightclub that has served as a stopover for jazz greats since 1990. Wynton Marsalis, Dakota Stanton, and Etta Jones are just a few of the big names who have graced the stage.
“Contrary to popular belief, seniors do venture out after dark,” said Harold Valle, who hosts the jazz nights. “We need a place to go.”
The Administration for Children’s Services, which helps fund the day care center, is the city agency responsible for holding up the renewal, according to Claudette Macey, director of the Fort Greene Council. The senior center could get a separate lease paid for with money from the city’s Department for the Aging, she said.
“ACS is sitting on the fence,” Macey said. “They’re playing a game.”
The lease expires in September, but the landlord has been receiving unsolicited offers for the building, and is threatening to put it on the market this week to see what interest it generates, Macey said, meaning time is running out.
“The city is stalling so it will get late, and then it will be too late turn back,” she said.
A spokesman for the children’s agency said it wants to keep the programs where they are.
“The Administration for Children’s Services is actively working with our partner city agencies to renew the lease at this site in an effort to continue providing quality early care and education services to children in Fort Greene,” Christopher McNiff said.
Clinton Hill resident Ebony Jenkins’s 4-year-old daughter is in the day care program, and she said they both love it — and that it is important to have it close to home.
“You don’t want to travel far with your child,” she said. “It’s a vital part of our community.”
Jenkins’s fiance and his siblings all attended programs there growing up, she added.
“We have so much history with that place,” Jenkins said. “It’s a real staple in our family.”
The Fort Greene Council’s kid and senior resources aren’t the only ones threatened by rising rents. Up in Williamsburg, the Swinging Sixties Center and Small World Daycare and Learning Center have been embroiled in a legal battle since 2013, when a father-and-son team bought their building, increased the rent, and moved to evict them. Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Williamsburg) is pushing a bill that would allow the city to take ownership of the building, where it has paid the rent since the 1970s.
— with Danielle Furfaro