The community center will be the first of its kind in the housing development in more than 20 years
While preparing to campaign for his current role as a New York City council member in 2009, Robert Cornegy Jr. promised the residents of Marcy Houses he would do something “big” to help them. The promise was vague, considering the multitude of problems that existed for the NYCHA residents. But five years later, Cornegy has made good on that promise. And yes, the “something” was big.
On Wednesday, Cornegy, joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and a number of other city officials, announced the groundbreaking of a brand-new $7 million community center in Marcy Houses, located in what remains of a vacant police station at the corner of Marcy Avenue and Ellery Street in Bed-Stuy.
“People have fought for justice for Marcy for a long time,” said de Blasio. “For decades young people here at Marcy needed a place to learn and grow and it did not happen. But when the community stands up and fights, the community can win. It was crucial that you had elected officials that believed in this and made it a priority.”
The Marcy Houses Community Center will be the first of its kind in the housing development in more than 20 years and will be a welcome addition in the 27-building facility that houses more than 4,000 residents.
Sharlene Humphrey, a resident of Marcy Houses and mother of three, said she’s looking forward to the center opening soon, because there are a lot of kids in the housing development who are bored and have no place to go. “That’s why they get into trouble or that’s why trouble finds them,” said Humphrey. “It’s easy to get into trouble when you ain’t got nothing to do to keep you busy. I’m hoping there are activities and educational programs at the center– things to further motivate them to want to do something with themselves.”
Cornegy, who raised close to $5 million dollars through his own office over two budget cycles, was relentless in his pleas to the city for additional support, said the mayor. BP Adams and Mayor de Blasio each allocated $1 million. State Sen. Martin Dilan, who represents the northern Brooklyn communities of Bushwick, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, also kicked in funds, bringing the total allocation to $7 million. And Rep. Nydia Velazquez provided the necessary counsel and contacts to pull together the programming.
“Those of you who are cooks knows that it can take a lot of ingredients to make something delicious,” said Cornegy. “Today, this is delicious, isn’t it?”
Cornegy also poured praise upon former NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye for her role in advocating for the center. Olatoye at the time questioned Cornegy’s efforts, pointing to the multi million-dollar state-of-the-art Ingersoll Community Center erected in the Walt Whitman Houses in neighboring Fort Greene. Cornegy explained to her the challenges of trying to mix residents of different housing developments; many of NYCHA’s young residents at times fear crossing the street into another housing development because of the threat of gang violence and territory wars.
“I said Shola, that isn’t going to work. And she listened,” said Cornegy. “She said that makes absolute sense, and she started this ball rolling. So I do want to thank Shola who’s not here and who has taken a lot of heat over the last few months. But she was instrumental in us getting here today. I wish she was here to see it, but I know she is somewhere listening.”
Currently, the center location sits boarded up awaiting renovations. It is scheduled to open to the public by April 2019, according to Cornegy. But until then, the old police station will serve as a reminder to the young residents that something positive awaits them next spring.
“I’ve often said you can tell if you are respected because you’re invested in,” said de Blasio. “Where there’s investment, it means you matter. We’re communicating to these kids that they matter.”