Proposed East Flatbush Rec Center: Bells & Whistles or Blowing Smoke?

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It’s one thing to announce plans to build a recreation center in East Flatbush, it’s another thing to actually put a shovel into the ground and get it built.

Council Member Farah Louis
Council Member Farah Louis
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Rodneyse Bichotte
Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte

Thus while the announcement from Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Councilmember Farah Louis Farah N. Louis (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, Kensington) and Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte  (D-Flatbush, Ditmas Park) to build a state-of-the-art recreation center named for Brooklyn’s trailblazing Congresswoman Shirley A. Chisholm on the Nostrand Playground, 3002 Foster Avenue came with a lot of bells and whistles, it did not come with an exact project cost, or timeline to begin the work and get it done, let alone any renderings of a design. 

The details did, however, resemble a similar announcement in June 2017 – more than three years ago – that former City Councilmember and current Public Advocate Jumaane Williams made for the Shirley A. Chisholm Community Center at Tilden Park on Tilden Avenue between East 48th and East 49th Streets. That project never materialized and according to the city’s Parks Department, it is now only “a tentative project and that not all proposed projects will become active projects.”

Jumaane Williams
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

There are several striking similarities between the two announcements including the funding streams. When Williams lauded the announcement in June 2017, he said it was part of the city’s Fiscal Year 2018 $85.2 million budget – when the city was flush with money – in which de Blasio’s executive branch would contribute $40 million in funding, with an additional $10 million that Williams allegedly secured with the help of former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Similarly,  the new Chisholm Recreation Center will allegedly be financed through the recently passed Fiscal Year 2021 budget – at a time when the city is cash-strapped – and we’ll come out $450 million reallocated funds taken from the New York City Police Department. Neither the city nor Louis’ office gave a price tag for the actual project at post time. 

The lawmakers said the center will be created using the design-build method of construction management, in which the City received broad authorization from Albany in December 2019. Design-build brings designers and contractors together as a team at the beginning of a project leading to greater cooperation and innovation and is known to reduce the timelines of major projects by up to 18 months.

However, the design-build method of construction management was authorized from Albany in regard to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway renovation project, which the city’s Department of Transportation is charged with overseeing and which involves both federal and state input. The proposed recreation center is a much smaller city project that the Parks Department will oversee and would not require the design-build method of construction management that the massive BQE project would require.

During the announcement for the new proposed recreation center, de Blasio didn’t have an answer as to why a community center slated for the Mariners Harbor Houses on Staten Island, a $5 million plan in 2017, still hadn’t been completed. 

“That’s a long time and we’ve got to fix it,” de Blasio said. 

But the three lawmakers agreed that creating spaces and outlets for youth is a clever way to get them off the streets, as well as the right investment in the community. 

“This center is how we combat gun and gang violence, this center is how we Occupy the Block, this is how we stop the shootings and save lives, by taking this critical step forward,” said Louis. 

Bichotte expressed how important she feels a center like this is needed during a time of increased crime and gun violence.

“Without safe spaces, youth become disconnected and are faced with mounting peer pressure. Ultimately, they make poor decisions without weighing out the consequences including a life of crime, violence, incarceration, and in some cases death. As our community, like so many others across this city, grapples with the increase in shootings, this state-of-the-art recreational center will be pivotal in turning the tide,” she said. 

-Stephen Witt contributed to this story