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Community Activists Celebrate Victory in the Battle For Former Community Center

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CHARAS Director Chino Garcia addresses the crowd.

On Sunday local activists came together to celebrate a victory in the long struggle for the former CHARAS/El Bohio community center building on East 9th Street.

The Department of Buildings this month issued a stop work order, at least temporarily halting developer Gregg Singer’s efforts to convert the historic school building into a student dorm. After persistent complaints from City Council member Rosie Mendez, the city examined two leases signed with Cooper Union and the Joffrey Ballet School and determined that Singer’s facility did not qualify as a “not-for-profit with housing accommodations.” Singer bought the former P.S. 64 building in 1998 and he kicked the beloved community center out in 2001.

During yesterday’s event, Mendez proclaimed, “we have a chance to fight another day.”  Saying the time had come for another push to right a wrong during the Giuliani Administration, Mendez told the activists and fellow elected officials assembled: “We need to take this message to the (new) mayor, who has the ability to negotiate to get us that building back… I have 3 years and 3 months left (in office). I want to walk with you inside that building!”

It was a call echoed by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who addressed Mayor de Blasio directly, saying, “this building is more than just brick and mortar. This is about people’s lives…  (The building) belongs to the community,” she asserted. “For the city of New York to prosper we need more than just condos and luxury buildings.”

There was also a stirring speech from Margarita Lopez, who preceded Mendez on the City Council and has been a mentor. Taking the microphone, Lopez explained, “I encountered Rosie when I was coming out of the building where we both live (in the East Village). After hearing about the latest developments in the CHARAS situation, she was determined to rejoin the battle. “I want to be here for this fight,” Lopez said. “It is going to be the last fight in regard to this building because we’re going to get it back.” She cautioned, however, that negotiating with Singer was pointless and that “it’s not going to be given to us by no one… The same way that we took over the building and took it back from the drug dealers and we made it possible to create a political enclave of power for this community, the same way we did that, that is what we need to do now. We need to take it over and then let the negotiations begin!”

Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President, also spoke, telling those gathered that — through eminent domain or some other way — there’s got to be a means of reclaimig the building for the Lower East Side. “Every neighborhood needs a strong, vibrant community center,” said Brewer. “Every neighborhood does not need a dorm.”

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The rally included an emotional address from Margarita Lopez.
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Local resident Ayo Harrington led the group in song.

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