GOWANUS – The non-profit dance studio and community arts organization, Spoke the Hub, will have to sell its Gowanus Arts building at 295 Douglass Street after 34 years at the location.
While Spoke the Hub’s second location is still operating at 748 Union Street, the 15,000-square-foot Douglass Street building—also known as the Gowanus Arts building—had to close two years ago as renovations to upgrade the space with an ADA-compliant theater, green roof, retractable seating, and new stairs introduced numerous problems that still have not been resolved.
“We have faced crazy challenges, from corrupt contractors to inept engineers…to a burst sprinkler system and a crooked insurance company…to dishonest developers…. The building has now been empty for almost two years as I tried to find a private lender to finance the finishing of the project, but that proved impossible,” Spoke the Hub’s founder, Elise Long, told Bklyner in an email.
The organization then “radically scaled down the scope of the project and re-bid the job, but it was still a couple of million dollars more than [Spoke the Hub] could afford to repair the damage that had been done by the first contractors and then finish the renovation,” Long explained.
When Long attempted to find a developer willing to take over the Douglass Street project, pay off the debt, and provide Spoke the Hub with one floor of the building, she found “basically, most developers just want to knock the building down and build a skyscraper.”
She says it will cost the non-profit approximately $5 million to complete the project. “We have a set of plans ready to be stamped by the DOB (Department of Buildings) but we don’t have the financing to finish….”
On top of this, Spoke the Hub has had to vacate a temporary space they moved into when the Douglass Street building closed. The temporary location at 234 Butler Street—the Gowanus Station Building—was seized via eminent domain by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year as part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup.
“234 Butler was set for demolition January 2019 and we have spent many months seeking another comparable space to relocate to—which has proved impossible to find in our now ‘hot’ Gowanus real estate market,” Long wrote in an email she sent to city officials. “We settled for a smaller space down the block with a huge rent increase that will not accommodate any of Spoke the Hub’s performance activities or other larger dance productions, but it is the best we could find….”
Long signed a ten-year lease for Spoke the Hub’s new 2,900-square-foot home at 298 Butler Street, but notes that the building needs $150,000 in renovations before programming at Spoke the Hub and Open Source (another arts organization forced out of 234 Butler Street, the third is Koko NYC) can continue this fall. “Although the scope of work to be performed is not dramatic, we have to raise that money fast,” Long said.
She added since she was feeling pressure to quickly find a new space, she agreed to sign the commercial lease which requires Spoke the Hub pay for all the building improvements, property taxes, and utilities for 298 Butler Street. Long is reaching out to numerous elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and requesting they advocate for lifting the property taxes since Spoke the Hub and Open Source are both tax-exempt organizations that are renting the building to provide not-for-profit dance and arts activities for the community. Spoke the Hub also faces more than $70,000 in property taxes for the coming year for its original location at 295 Douglass—a “now empty, derelict arts center,” as Long describes it.
This past spring, Spoke the Hub celebrated its 40th anniversary of bringing dance classes, performances, and children’s programming to the community as well as offering affordable work space for artists.
Long has submitted a preliminary application for 298 Butler to the NYC Industrial & Commercial Abatement Program (ICAP) which provides property tax abatements for renovation or construction and is waiting for a response.
Long is hoping a developer or investor will step in and take over the 295 Douglass Street project for Spoke the Hub and “bring it to a happy ending. Otherwise, we have to sell the building ASAP and close up shop there. Not a happy ending,” she said.