Group looks to revitalize historic Brooklyn theater

September 10, 2012 5:15:31 AM PDT
A rundown theater in Brooklyn that was at the heart of the city's civil rights movement in the 1980s is now the focus of an aggressive fund-raising campaign.

The New Brooklyn Theater Group envisions a performing arts center that will revitalize the neighborhood.

The Slave Theater on Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant has a long a storied history. But for more than a decade, it has fallen into disrepair. Now, some determined visionaries want to create a new future while honoring its past.

Beyond the Slave Theater's tattered marquee and crumbling exterior is a rich history. It was built as the regent theater in 1910. Then, Judge John Phillips bought it in the 70s and converted it into a place to celebrate black history.

In the 80s, the Reverend Al Sharpton held weekly meetings there and organized marches in the wake of the Howard Beach attack.

Now, the New Brooklyn Theater Group wants to buy the building, renovate it and turn it into a performing arts center.

"There are audiences here," the theater group's Jonathan Solari said. "There are members of this community that want a place to gather, a cultural center here in Bed-Stuy. Because if you walk down the street at night, you hear jazz music. You see people rehearing. It's alive here, but there's not a place to showcase it."

The plan calls for a newly-renovated three-stage theater. The lobby would be converted into a cafe and art gallery. But the issue is money. The estate of the late judge is willing to entertain offers to sell, so the New Brooklyn Theater has opened a kickstarter campaign.

"Two hundred thousand dollars is our kickstarter goal," the group's Sarah Wolff said. "But we have been receiving phone calls from other people who are interested in partnering with us. They're very interested in our project and potentially seeing how we can all work together to bring this building back to life."

Local residents like the idea.

"It'd give the young people a place to go," Mary Green said. "And it also might give the young people an opportunity to show their talent."

The New Brooklyn Theater Group is meeting with Community Board 3 to go over their plans and try and garner more support for the project.

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