The show must go on!
A developer who just bought Bedford-Stuyesant’s decrepit but historic Slave Theater should keep the famed civil rights site in tact and allow a local performance company to transform it into a working playhouse once again, says the leader of the thespian troupe.
“Our hope is that the new owners will keep the theater on the site and that we would hopefully occupy that theater,” said Jeff Strabone, board chairman of the New Brooklyn Theater, which had a similar handshake agreement with former owner the Fulton Halsey Development Group and had been planning and fund-raising the revival for years.
Strabone says Fulton Halsey phoned unexpectedly a few days ago to say it had sold after being presented with an “offer they couldn’t refuse” — around $18.5 million for the Fulton Street theater plus two neighboring properties, according to the Real Deal, which first reported the sale.
“The new sale took us completely by surprise,” said Strabone, whose company famously staged a play inside the ailing Interfaith Medical Center last year in order to help bring the bankrupt hospital back from the brink.
The New Brooklyn Theater now plans on reaching out to new owner Eli Hamway to discuss reviving the old deal, Strabone said.
But Hamway doesn’t exactly have a stellar history of choosing the arts over profit — he took over three Gowanus warehouses in October and promptly booted out around 300 artists who had been using them as studios.
The theater’s future has been up in the air since it closed in 1998 after then-owner Brooklyn Civil Court judge John Phillips — also known as the “kung-fu” judge — failed to pay taxes on the property after years of running it as a hub for black activism and handed it down to his nephew, Ohio reverend Samuel Boykin.
But the auditorium’s murals of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey just gathered dust under Boykin’s long tenure, which lasted until he sold to Fulton Halsey in early 2013.
Strabone said it would be a tragedy to lose the slice of neighborhood and civil rights history, and, if nothing else, hopes the new owner doesn’t tear the building down for something the community can’t use.
“The worst case scenario would be for the new owners to demolish the theater and put nothing in its place,” he said.
Hamway and Fulton Halsey Development Group could not be reached for comment.