New community center comes a step closer to reality

A youngster looks at a miniature model for a new community center on E. 14o Street. Photo: Gustavo Huerta

Planners reveal miniature model for new facility at annual festival

For the second straight year, a shuttered medical facility in the heart of Mott Haven was the site of a daylong festival for community members to show pride in their neighborhood.

But this year’s H.E.ARTS festival differed from last year’s because the coalition that organized the event, the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards, has taken a big step toward achieving its goal of converting the 28,000-square-foot former detox center into a community-run arts and health care center. 

East 140 Street between Alexander and Willis avenues, where the abandoned Lincoln Detox Center building stands, was lined with colorful tents where residents and representatives from local groups congregated, all eager to take part in the conversion project. The local organizations included UpBeat NYC, South Bronx Unite, Community Connections for Youth, Boogie Down Books, BxArts Factory, Birthing Project, and the Mazarte Dance Company, who had gathered for the June 30 event to show their support and offer a glimpse of how they could contribute their own talents, once the project gets off the ground.

In July 2017, the Mott Haven-Port Morris Land Stewards was one of just two groups out of more than 100 citywide to win a prestigious award for its proposal to convert the mothballed detox center into a public space. The nonprofit that gave them the award, the Design Trust for Public Space, is working with the Stewards to determine how best to serve area residents.

Despite sweltering temperatures, the Mazarte Dance Company treated attendees to a display of Mexican art and traditional dance. If the push to put the abandoned health center into the community’s hands, it could help revive their programs disseminating Mexican cultural heritage for South Bronx residents, said the company’s founder and artistic director Martha Mazarte-Alvarez.

“We always love to go and support any kind of community and any purposes they have,” Alvarez said. “My company itself, sometimes we don’t have any place to practice in the Bronx, so sometimes we have to do it in Manhattan so it’s important to have places like this.”

Bronx musical acts, artists and artisans helped make the afternoon a party for all ages, but the party included an educational component. Attendees were intrigued by a new rendering of the proposed community center, an interactive diorama that showed that the new facility is designed to have an outdoor patio, large open spaces for classes to be held and plenty of windows for natural light. Children were invited to rearrange the tables and chairs that went with the small-scale model.

City Councilwoman Diana Ayala, whose district includes Mott Haven has voiced her support for the project emphasizing that children, in particular, can benefit from the health, arts and education programs that are otherwise hard to find in the area.

“We have an opportunity here with a building that’s not being used, that has been in this community for many years to turn it into a hub that allows our non-profit groups an affordable office space while at the same time providing a good service to the community,” Ayala said. “Children that are engaged and are receiving the education enrichment services they need at an early age do better. I think that’s the goal of everyone that’s here today.”

The project’s organizers say their next step will be to repair damage to the existing structure to make up for years of neglect, and to create a budget from the results of a yearlong feasibility study, then submit it to city officials who will determine whether to support the project.