By Stephen Witt
Imagine the day when after seeing a Brooklyn Nets contest one might walk further Downtown Brooklyn and catch the latest dance troupe or theatre offering. That after the city unrolled plans last week to start work on $650 million worth of improvements to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) cultural district. “This will be a critical component of one of America’s great downtowns,” said Joe Chan, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Local Development Corporation (DBPLDC). Chan said upon completion, the BAM Cultural District, which runs between Fulton and Lafayette streets just off Flatbush Avenue, will be different than Manhattan’s Lincoln Center in that, “the goal is to have clear physical and programmatic connections with the surrounding community.” The first component of the project will be a dance studio in a 20-story residential tower with 150 apartments, half of which will be affordable housing. According to both Chan and Bloomberg spokesperson John Gallagher, a Request for Proposals (RFP) will go out for the housing component this month. Other projects expected to have commence in 2008 include the 299-seat Theater for a New Audience, modeled after London’s Royal National Theater and being built in 2008, and the Visual and Performing Arts Library, currently on hold until a new executive director is named for the Brooklyn Public Library. Finally, the district will also include a public plaza, which will be built with an underground parking garage by landscape architect Ken Smith, who designed the outdoor space at the new 7 World Trade Center building. Chan said the city has already committed $75 million in direct capital costs, but that most of the $650 million is expected to come from private development. “That is the public investment. With every development there is a public investment intended to spur private investment for a return several times over,” said Chan. The DBPLDC is working with the city and state in the implementations of the area projects in the Downtown area including the BAM district, he said. Chan said part of the DBPLDC’s job is to attract cultural tenants to the BAM district and that is falling on Harvey Lichtenstein, the former BAM executive director. “Harvey is the chair of the cultural planning initiative, and put Brooklyn and BAM on the nation’s cultural map,” said Chan, adding Lichtenstein is talking to several arts groups, but no philharmonics. In the meantime, the development was welcomed by City Councilmember Letitia James, in whose district BAM lies. “I am glad the BAM LDC is moving forward. I hope that the RFP selection process will reflect the diversity of our city, and include space for the many non-profits and arts groups being displaced in the Fort Greene area,” James said.