Some want shuttered facility to be converted into community center
Activists and residents squeezed into the BronxArtSpace gallery on Oct. 1 to weigh in on the future of a long-abandoned spiritual healing center for drug addicts in the heart of Mott Haven’s historic district.
During the 1980s the city-owned, 28,000 square foot building at 359 East 140th Street, formerly known as the Lincoln Recovery Center, offered acupuncture and a touch-based stress relief technique known as Reike, which relied on sunlight that beamed through the skylight, to help heal. The building closed in 2010.
“What we don’t want is a methadone clinic,” said Mychal Johnson, a Mott Haven resident and spokesman for the grassroots group South Bronx Unite, at the Oct. 1 gathering. Many in the neighborhood contend that the numerous methadone clinics in and around The Hub have led to a profusion of drug users who panhandle and contribute to crime.
Others proposed that the building be converted into a community center dedicated to providing health care, education, and the arts.
Several local organizations, including youth orchestra program UpBeatNYC and alternative-to-incarceration group Community Connections for Youth, said they are eager to make use of the space to reach more residents. Reverend Ruben Austria, who heads the Community Connections initiative, said that the city should finance a project that will serve area residents. He criticized the administration’s decision, announced in July, that it would invest heavily in expanding Horizon Juvenile Center in Mott Haven so that the facility can house teenage inmates who would be transferred from Rikers Island.
“The city is going to ask how we can fund this. How is it that we can spend $300 million upgrading a juvenile detention center but not $10 million on education and the arts?” A cheer went up around the room.
Some said they were nervous that the city will push to build housing on the space, which abuts Alexander’s Alley, where basketball courts and playgrounds are located.
“There’s no access, there’s no through street. We don’t want housing here,” said Johnson, “What do you think?” he asked, and a shoutout of “no” echoed through the room.
But considerable renovation would have to be done before the building could be made habitable again, said Nandini Bagchee, a professor at Spitzer School of Architecture, whose class is helping residents to imagine the building’s future. Mold and asbestos abound in the building, she said. Additionally, parts of the interior are very dark, including the basement, which has almost no natural light, though two terraces and the skylight provide some light inside the building.
One resident was adamant that the community should be allowed to decide without intervention from city officials. He feared that if elected officials are involved, gentrification will follow and current residents will be left out.
“I don’t care what they do as long as it serves the community” said John Garcia, a Mott Haven resident of 57 years. “I’m worried this project will fall into the hand of politicians.”