Last month, St. Nicks Alliance and the Conselyea Street Block Association closed on the acquisition of 211 Ainslie Street, home of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Daycare. The sale concluded five years of public rallies, political fights and legal battles.
“This victory is a miracle,” said Michael Rochford, executive director of St. Nicks Alliance. “This was an impossible task that, with a great deal of persistence, talent and commitment, has been realized.”
The building at 211 Ainslie Street was built four decades ago by the city, which purchased the vacant property and leased it to the Conselyea Street Block Association (CSBA), a local group formed by women activists. CSBA then created and operated the senior and daycare centers for the community.
The building is also a meeting location for Community Board 1 and other groups in Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
A covenant in the lease mandated that if the property was ever sold by the landlord, it had to be first offered to the seniors and daycare at CSBA.
But in November 2013, Brooklyn developers Harry and Victor Einhorn purchased the building for $4.5 million. After they tried to raised the rent on CSBA by $7,000, the developers delivered a 31-day eviction notice on Christmas Eve to make room for condos.
St. Nicks Alliance reportedly offered $6 million to buy the property and save the space, but did not succeed in their earlier effort.
For years, local elected officials rallied to save the community centers. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol proposed a bill in the State Legislature to allow the city to use eminent domain to seize the building. Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, vetoed the legislation in August 2015.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso and other officials also protested to bring attention to the space. He was arrested outside the center for blocking traffic.
“The Swinging 60’s Senior Center and Small World Daycare are the backbone of the community,” Lentol said in a statement. “But they represent even more than that. They give human face to the programs that our city and state government promote.”
Last year, in what officials called a “last-ditch effort by the landlords” and a “stalling tactic,” the Einhorns declared bankruptcy just as city representatives negotiated a sale of the property.
But thanks to budget allocations from elected officials, St. Nicks Alliance and CSBA were finally able to secure the property. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams funded $1.5 million, while Reynoso allocated $3.5 million in public dollars.
“I pledged all of my capital dollars this year to 211 Ainslie because I felt strongly that we needed to save this important institution,” Reynoso said in a statement.
St. Nicks Alliance secured the rest of the $10.5 million through mortgage financing. According to the organization, some of the funds will go to immediate repairs to the building, including the elevator, roof and water systems.
The group will also begin fundraising to redesign the rooms to “bring the building to full use.” Currently, more than 125 seniors and 150 children use the building everyday.
St. Nicks Alliance and CSBA said details for a public celebration are “to be announced.”
“This is truly a great moment to celebrate the strength and solidarity of the Williamsburg and Greenpoint community in coming together,” said Community Board 1 member Janice Peterson, “to fight for this building that means so much to so many.”