MANHATTAN — The transformation of a landmark Harlem firehouse into an academy for Afro-Caribbean studies is set to begin this spring, but with scaled-back ambitions.
The brick-red firehouse, built in 1888 and empty since the FDNY abandoned it eight years ago, will be reborn as the new headquarters of the Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute.
The organization, which currently resides in Hell’s Kitchen, has spent years raising money for the project, the first phase of which involves a $5 million rehabilitation of the three-story Romanesque Revival building on East 125th Street, near Lexington Avenue.
That money is in the bank, but not enough for the $700,000 second phase, which will revamp the narrow space to accommodate a full-scale community-based group with a reception area, community room, performance space, offices, a shop and a café.
The group originally wanted to add two floors to the firehouse, but dropped those plans after realizing how hard it would be to raise another $3 million to cover it.
“We’re pleased that in this difficult economic climate we are moving forward and people are supportive of it,” President Marta Moreno Vega said. “They're excited about the move.”
Renovation work will begin in March or April, she said.
The project has had help from local elected officials, including City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The city has promised to transfer the property to the CCCADI for a dollar.
The agreement was part of a 2008 deal to find cultural uses for the firehouse, which was the longtime home of Fire Engine Company 36 until it and several other FDNY units were decommissioned in a 2003 budget crisis. The building received landmark status in 1997.
To help finance the redevelopment project, the CCCADI has been trying to sell its West 58th Street brownstone, which went on the market last July with an asking price of $3.7 million and was soon discounted to $3 million, according to StreetEasy.com.
Vega said Friday that her group was in contract with a buyer, but would not say who it was.
“We are inching along but we’re confident that we will make it,” she said.