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ABC No Rio's New $5 Million Home Moves Closer to Construction

ABC No Rio is a fixture on Rivington Street.
ABC No Rio is a fixture on Rivington Street.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

LOWER EAST SIDE — Downtown arts collective ABC No Rio is finally getting a new building, after more than four years of planning and fundraising.

The city formally asked for bids last week for the activist group's new $5 million home at 156 Rivington St., which will feature gallery space, a print shop, a darkroom, a zine library and a computer lab.

"It's a big step forward," said Steven Englander, ABC No Rio's director, who has been shepherding the project through government approvals for more than a year.

ABC No Rio was founded in 1980 as an arts and activism collective and has become both a performance space and a community center for those working on social-justice issues. Its long-awaited building has already been held up several times while ABC No Rio raises money and navigates the city's bureaucracy, but Englander hopes that the new building could open as soon as early 2014.

Much will depend on the construction bids, which are due April 27. If they come in too high, ABC No Rio will have to decide whether to delay the project further by taking time to raise more money, Englander said.

"I don't consider it real until I see the bids," Englander said of the new building. "You never really know what something is going to cost until someone says, 'Yes.'"

If the bids come in on budget, Englander hopes to clear out ABC No Rio's current building by early summer. The former squat must be demolished to make way for the new structure.

After ABC No Rio moves out, but before the bulldozers sweep in, Englander plans to host one last show in the emptied building.

Tentatively called "Personal Space," the show will feature a dozen artists who have previously worked with ABC No Rio, displaying their vision for what the Lower East Side spot will look like five, 50 or 500 years in the future. The exhibit will also include recent and historical photos of the building and ABC No Rio's programs.

Englander hopes to open the exhibit in June or July and begin the three-month demolition process shortly afterward.

The new four-story structure, designed by architect Paul Castrucci, will then take about 16 months to build, Englander said.  

Castrucci's environmentally friendly design includes twice as much gallery and performance space as the current location and a more efficient layout for the print shop, darkroom and technology center. A green plant wall will drape the front of the building, and solar panels on the roof will provide 15 percent of ABC No Rio's peak electricity needs, according to the organization's website.

ABC No Rio has received $3.15 million from the city, $275,000 from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and $1.5 million from private fundraising. It still needs several hundred thousand dollars more to furnish and equip the new building and to begin a reserve fund for future repairs.

Englander hopes that the organization's new building will continue attracting both longtime supporters and new visitors.

"It'll be more appealing for some of the people who are turned off by the urban rustic charm we enjoy now," Englander said of the graffiti-scrawled former tenement building. "It'll allow us to more easily bring people in."