LONG ISLAND CITY — The Chocolate Factory, a performing arts center that has spent the past decade in Hunters Point, has purchased a building in nearby Dutch Kills that will become the theater's permanent home, officials announced.
The 7,500-square-foot former industrial building at 38-29 24th St., off of 39th Avenue, was bought for $3.8 million with the help of city funds.
The new venue is three times the size of the space The Chocolate Factory currently rents at 5-49 49th Ave., where the group's lease will expire in 2019.
Co-founders Sheila Lewandowski and Brian Rogers spent years searching for a building to buy that could serve as the theater's permanent home, fearing that without one they'd eventually be displaced from the neighborhood.
"As this community gets gentrified, we lose artists and art space," Lewandowski said, calling the purchase "a huge relief" for the organization, which is known for hosting experimental dance, theater and other performances.
"We commission work from artists kind of working on the cutting edge," she added. "That will continue, we’ll just be able to do more of it, and we’ll also be able to have larger audiences."
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Chocolate Factory co-founder Sheila Lewandowski inside the group's future space. (Credit: Sheila Lewandowski)
Funding for the new building included $1.7 million in capital money allocated by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as $1.2 million from Queens Borough Presidents Melinda Katz and the late Helen Marshall.
In a statement, Van Bramer called the theater "a pillar in our community" that he credited with helping establish Long Island City as a sought-after arts district.
"For over a decade, the Chocolate Factory Theater has been a driving force in making Western Queens a cultural center in our city," he said.
Lewandowski said staff is currently cleaning out the new building — which once housed a dye manufacturer — and planning renovations estimated to cost $1.2 million.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan has already allocated $350,000 to begin the overhaul, which will include electrical and plumbing work, as well as the addition of a performance space with around 100 seats, a separate rehearsal space, offices and a sprung-wood dance floor.
While the Chocolate Factory's 2017-'18 season will be held at its existing space in Hunters Point, Lewandowski said she's hoping to make use of the new building in some capacity as soon as possible.
The group hopes to fully occupy the space by 2019, according to a press release.