Brooklyn Philharmonic Center Renovation to Begin After Decade-Long Battle

By Nikhita Venugopal on February 4, 2013 9:08am 

CARROLL GARDENS — The Brooklyn Philharmonic has a new home.

After almost a decade of conflict involving community members, politicians, actors, and residents, the renovation of former firehouse Engine Company 204, slated to become the new center for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, will begin this summer.

The Department of Design and Construction confirmed that the building will require new windows and a gut interior renovation and will be completed by the summer of 2014.

Bidding on the construction company will begin in the next month or two, said Timothy Gilles, member of the board of directors for the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

In 2010, Community Board 6 approved the 10-year lease for the Brooklyn Philharmonic at $1 a year.

The decommissioned firehouse at 299 Degraw St. will house the administrative staff of the philharmonic on the second floor, said Gilles. After moving out of the Brooklyn Academy of Music building a few years ago, the staff has had about five different offices in the last six to eight years, he added.

“It’s been really disruptive,” said Gilles.

In the area where the fire trucks were previously parked, the arts group has planned for a “community-based space.” While the area isn’t big enough for a 60-piece orchestra rehearsal, said Gilles, it will be appropriate for quartets and smaller groups to rehearse and even perform.

They even hope to encourage community groups to take advantage of the space for music, dance, and other kinds of artistic performances, he said.

It will be “a great way to amplify” the philharmonic’s endeavor to build “deep community engagement around the borough,” said Gilles.

Despite the philharmonic’s best intentions, the old firehouse represents a long-standing battle between the City and the neighborhood.

In 2003, a number of Brooklyn residents, including current City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, actor and former firefighter Steve Buscemi, and Assemblymember Joan Millman protested, at the time, against the decommissioning of the Degraw Street firehouse, The Brooklyn Paper reported.

“We stood arm-linked before the firehouse,” said Millman. The protesters, including Millman, were arrested during the incident, she said.

As an increasing number of young families moved into the Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens area, community members were concerned by the absence of a nearby firehouse, said Maria Pagano, president of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association

“We were all feeling very secure having the firemen and firehouse,” she said.

But supporters of Engine 204 eventually lost their battle. The building was awarded to the music organization over a firefighter advocacy group, Friends of Firefighters, who wanted to use the space for a counseling and therapy center. The neighborhood’s closest firehouses are Engine 202 in Red Hook and Engine 205 in Brooklyn Heights. 

However, Pagano said she was excited at the Brooklyn Philharmonic’s arrival into the community.

“I think it will be a wonderful thing,” said Pagano.

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