Ribbon Cutting Marks Official Opening of Manny Cantor Center

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Educational Alliance President Alan van Capelle, Manny Cantor Executive Director Joanna Samuels, Board member Dick Cantor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Educational Alliance President Robin Bernstein, Board Chair Russell Markowsky.

The new $55 million Manny Cantor Center at the Educational Alliance opened in February, but yesterday it was time to make it official. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined members of the board of trustees and the historic agency’s top leaders to cut the ribbon on the gleaming center.

Held in the sixth floor community room, which overlooks Seward Park and the cooperative apartments on East Broadway, the ribbon cutting offered the chance for the 125-year old non-profit to celebrate the realization of what one speaker called an “audacious dream.”

The building, at 197 East Broadway, includes a state-of-the-art fitness center, preschool, senior and teen centers, an art school and new facilities for Head Start. Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Manny Cantor’s executive director, said the facility is meant to become a hub for the entire Lower East Side community — a place where people from different economic and ethnic groups can converge.

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Illegal Art's Connect the Dots installation in the lobby of the manny cantor Center.

Illegal Art’s Connect the Dots installation in the lobby of the Manny Cantor Center.

The center was named for the father of Dick Cantor, a board member who was the driving force behind the restoration project.  In remarks that turned emotional, Cantor recalled boyhood memories of crossing the street with his dad, hand-in-hand. “Everybody doesn’t have the privilege of having someone to hold their hand,” said Cantor. “We provide that.”  He also recounted the 10-year campaign for the gut renovation project, which initially carried a $95 million price tag. There was talk at one point, he said, of building a brand new facility but the community made it very clear it wanted the historic building to be preserved.

Speaker Silver, who grew up playing basketball at the Educational Alliance, said, “this is a community center built for the future while preserving the past.”  Silver recalled his time serving on the board of directors, explaining that the experience inspired him to “pursue public office and to give back” to his community. “It’s been an honor to represent this community in state government,” he said and “I am proud to have directed millions of dollars to the Educational Alliance (over the years) and $1.2 million in capital funding for this building.” Silver also offered his thanks to the center for maintaining its kosher kitchen.

Robin Bernstein, who recently stepped down as president of the institution, said “the reality (of the Manny Cantor Center), has exceeded the dream.” She said that Silver’s support and that of his chief of staff, Judy Rapfogel, were critical to launching a fundraising campaign that many called unrealistic during a brutal financial downturn.  She remembered their assertion that the Lower East Side should have a community center as grand as the JCC on the Upper West Side.

In closing the ceremony, Alan van Capelle, the Educational Alliance’s new president, called it “a great day for the Lower East Side and an even greater day for New York City.”