Elected officials in Fort Greene are holding ransom millions of dollars in funding for a new local cultural district until the Brooklyn Academy of Music Local Development Corporation includes more community members in the planning process.
For the last two and a half years, the theater’s development group has been working on a plan to create a district complete with new theaters, office and gallery space, and housing. To make that happen, the corporation needs $700 million, about $87 million of which is expected to come from state and city.
Last week, however, the neighborhood’s state assemblymember, Roger Green, said his house’s funding will only come if community concerns are addressed. To help get that process going, Green in July awarded $50,000 to the Concerned Citizens Coalition, a group of local residents, artists, church leaders and merchants, to support their push to get the BAM LDC to include their own needs in the development plan.
“This is your money,” Green told the crowd that poured out of the auditorium and into the halls of the Brooklyn Music School last week. “And we as your elected officials are the guardians of your money.” City Councilmember James E. Davis and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery echoed his sentiments. “We’re not signing off unless the community is at the table,” said Davis.
At that meeting, the coalition released the results of its survey of 322 community residents and merchants. Among respondents’ primary concerns: that the new cultural district will elevate already steep housing costs and displace longtime residents and businesses, a trend which began in Fort Greene in the late 1990s. (Just a couple of weeks ago, rising rents forced long time West African furniture dealer Ashanti Origins to move from Lafayette Avenue to Harlem.) More than a quarter of those surveyed said they have considered moving out of the area because of the high rents, or because they cannot afford to buy a home in the area.
Green is demanding that the BAM LDC include more performance space for local children and more professional development for the area’s teachers in the plan.
The BAM development group, which hopes to break ground within the next three months, says it has been catering to local residents’ requests made at its own series of public meetings. The changes it has made include designating half of the 500 units of housing in its proposal for low- and middle-income tenants, and half the 500,000 square feet of artists space for local artists. “We understand that the cultural district has to be reflective of the neighborhood,” says LDC spokesperson Lee Silberstein.
The CCC plans to present its supplementary plan to the LDC soon. Silberstein says the LDC will be “delighted” to see it.