In an attempt to save the Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Day Care at 211 Ainslie St. – as well as other threatened community outposts throughout the city - Assemblyman Joseph Lentol recently introduced a bill in the state legislature that would speed up the eminent domain process.
Lentol’s proposal, which recently passed in the Assembly, was designed to apply to infrastructure that was built using public funds and has been used for public programs for more than 25 years.
“The bad news is that it did not pass the Senate, but we got the mayor’s attention,” Lentol said. “He pleaded not to pursue the bill in the Senate, but we pursued it anyway because we thought it was important.”
In response, Lentol added that de Blasio promised to sit down with the community to create a new plan to save the center.
Brooklyn developer Harry Einhorn purchased the building at 211 Ainslie St. for $4.5 million last year, and delivered an eviction notice to the two community groups on Christmas Eve after hiking the rent by $7,000 to $40,000 per month.
“We may have lost the bill, but I don’t think we lost the battle yet,” Lentol said. “We have a lot of pressure. We are all going to be with the mayor and demand that he resolves this.”
After the new landlord raised the rent on the Conselyea St. Block Association, the civic group that operates the senior center and daycare, he delivered a 31-day eviction notice. However they are still there and operating while the issue is resolved in court.
“Please Mayor de Blasio, help us save this center,” said Phil Caponegro, president of the Conselyea Street Block Association. “It’s the cornerstone of our community. It’s a place for seniors to go, it’s a place for our daycare community, we need your help in saving it.”
Caponegro joined dozens of seniors along with numerous elected officials last week to rally once again in front of the center.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said the battle to save the center is one that should never have gone this far, as it was written in the lease that the city had the “right to first refusal,” which she said never happened.
“The owner ignored that clause,” Maloney said. “The residents of this community could be cheated out of their opportunity to have this building continue to benefit this community. The city should have been standing up and fighting for us to retain this important space.”
Maloney said she is confident the mayor would be interested in retaining the center as his administration is currently on the hunt for additional locations to serve the universal pre-kindergarten plan.
“This site was built with city funds, it was built with taxpayer money to serve the community, “ she said. “It was designed as a community facility, it served the community throughout its entire existence and it should remain a community facility.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso has been fighting to save the center since taking office in January, and called on de Blasio to separate himself from what he called outdated politics from the former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Don’t follow down the steps of our last mayor who thought infrastructure was insignificant,” Reynoso said. “Stop it and stand with us as a partner. Help us save this center.”