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Threatened Williamsburg Community Center Spared Closure by Public Funding

By Gwynne Hogan | June 27, 2017 7:38pm
 The sale was finalized on Thursday, officials said.
The sale was finalized on Thursday, officials said.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

WILLIAMSBURG — A 43-year-old community center on the verge of eviction was saved at the last minute by two Brooklyn politicians who pooled public funds to buy the building back from from developers.

St. Nicks Alliance finalized the purchase of Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Day Care at 211 Ainslie St. — which serves around 150 senior citizens each day for coffee, hot meals and activities and a daycare and Pre-K — for $8.55 million on Thursday, more than half of which came of public funds, according to executive director Michael Rochford.

"It's a miracle that it happened. The center was all but ready to close," he said. "We're all breathing a lot easier now that our seniors and toddlers have a place they can go every day."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, at the behest of Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, and Local City Councilman Antonio Reynoso allotted $1.5 and $3.5 million, respectively, for a combined $5 million, towards buying the building, according to Rochford.

And St. Nicks Alliance, brought in by the Conselyea Street Block Association to help manage the center, put together the rest of funding through loans and private funding for a total of $10.05 million, which includes $2 million for emergency repair work to fix the roof, upgrade the elevator and some other essential repairs, Rochford said.

Rosanne Tuohy, the senior center's assistant director said there's been anxiety over the last five years because of, "the uncertainty of whether or not we were going to stay open and what our seniors would do if we closed," she said.

"It's been a long fight and we're really happy we have people to help."

Turmoil at the 43-year-old community center at 211 Ainslie St. began in 2012, as the tail end of the 20-year lease drew near and the city announced it would shut it down because of budget cuts. 

Seniors rallied to keep the center open their beloved retreat for bingo, Zumba classes and hot meals — and the city council restored funding, but at then at the end of 2013, the building was quietly sold off to a developer unbeknownst the Conselyea Street Block Association who ran it.

"We're 99 percent certain it would have become another condo development," Rochford said.

Father and son duo Victor and Harry Einhorn served the center with eviction papers on Christmas Eve, after buying the building for $4.5 million.

Conselyea Street Block Association fought the eviction in court claiming the building had been sold illegally because the former owner hadn't warned the city or them of the sale, and in the midst of the legal battle, the Einhorns, filed for bankruptcy, in what was seen as a last-ditch effort to get rid of the center, Crain's New York reported.

Now, Rochford said, seniors and children and residents of all ages for will be able to count on the center as a gathering spot for generations to come.

"We need to take a stand if we're going to still be a community where low and moderate income people can live," Rochford said. "There still have to be institutions [like this]."

The Einhorns didn't return a request for comment immediately.