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Fundraisers have long way to go to convert old firehouse

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Organizers hoping to raise the near $2 million needed to convert the former Firehouse 212 into a multi−purpose community center hosted an event last Friday celebrating the money they have raised so far – and showing how much further they still have to go.

So far, organizers have raised $110,000 needed to convert the old firehouse (134 Wythe Avenue), which was shuttered in 2004 over loud community objections, into a multi−purpose community center. In 2008, the city accepted a Request for Proposals from two community organizations – The People’s Firehouse, Inc. (PFI), and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG) – thus ensuring the site would continue to serve a community benefit.

Dubbed the Northside Community Town Hall Center, the new space is envisioned to be three−stories and 6,000 square−feet. It would house classrooms, office space for PFI and NAG, community space, and a large ground floor space that could function as a gallery for area artists.

Felice Kirby, who is leading the fundraising effort, said the group has submitted applications for $1.2 million in federal, state and city funds.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to get all that money. But even if we get half that money, it would demonstrate to HPD” – the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, the “lead agency” supervising the RFP – “that we have an ability to seriously fundraise.”

Kirby said the sagging economy, in which the philanthropic sector was particularly hard hit, has compelled organizers to explore the possibility of opening the center in phases.

“We’re still planning on opening the building all at once, but one has to be realistic. We were awarded this project before the economy collapsed, and a lot of the foundations that we had gotten commitments from retracted them,” she said.

In January, Peter Gillespie, executive director of NAG, said he hoped to have the money raised by the beginning of 2010. Under this timeline, the center would open in 2011 after its estimated one−year construction.

But Kirby said last week that groundbreaking by 2010 with a 2011 opening date would be “miraculously successful.”

Kirby is the co−owner of Teddy’s Bar and Grill (96 Berry Street), long a hotbed of community activism. As of press time on Wednesday, she planned on holding a fundraiser at Teddy’s on Thursday with special guest Marty Markowitz.

She said she is organizing neighborhood restaurateurs to do a tasting event fundraiser as early as this October, and is planning other creative fundraisers for the summer.

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