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Turn Former Rehab Center into Community Center, Bronx Residents Say

By Eddie Small | August 4, 2016 5:16pm | Updated on August 5, 2016 4:45pm
 A group of neighborhood activists are working to turn a vacant building at 349 E. 140th St. into a community center.
A group of neighborhood activists are working to turn a vacant building at 349 E. 140th St. into a community center.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MOTT HAVEN — A group of South Bronx activists hope to turn a vacant former rehab center into a thriving community center for health, education and the arts.

The building is located at 349 E. 140th St. and owned by NYC Health + Hospitals, which previously used it for a substance abuse treatment program that now operates out of a different HHC building in The Bronx.

Members of South Bronx Unite and other groups are pushing to make the building active again, specifically as a place where they and other neighborhood organizations could have a stable, long-term home.

"A lot of organizations that service this community don’t really have a permanent facility that they can work out of," said Mychal Johnson, a co-founding member of South Bronx Unite and one of the advocates behind the push to reopen the building.

One such organization is UpBeat NYC, a music education group in the South Bronx, according to Co-Founding Executive Director Liza Austria.

The group currently works out of several different locations in the neighborhood, including at the Mott Haven Library, but would prefer to have a permanent space of its own due to its large number of students and the difficulty of lugging equipment like bass drums and timpani from one location to another, she said.

Austria described the building at E. 140th St. as an ideal spot for the group to make a permanent home and collaborate with other neighborhood organizations who could use the space as well.

"It has really a history of being used for the community, so we’ve just been talking a lot with other community members and organizations about the possibilities that we could really envision there," she said. "So it’s kind of an exciting prospect. We feel like it’s the perfect spot."

Activists have already reached out to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's office for help figuring out how to move forward with their idea, and she has expressed support for putting the building to better use.

“This underutilized facility has a long history in the South Bronx," said Mark-Viverito spokeswoman Amy Varghese, "and we look forward to continuing to work with [HHC] and local stakeholders to put this site to a productive use that benefits the community."

The building is 48,000 square feet, and although no decision has been made about what to do with it yet, HHC would like to turn it into something that could benefit the neighborhood.

“The NYC Health + Hospitals is committed to turning this vacant building into a space that can be used to benefit the needs of the community," said HHC spokeswoman Ana Marengo. "We intend to solicit input from the public before any decision is made and will consider any suggestions from local residents and community leaders.”