As Bed Stuy Booms, Restoration Corp. Taps David Adjaye to Revamp Plaza to Boost Longtime Locals

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Bed Stuy’s Restoration Plaza is going to be reimagined — again.

Famed architect Sir David Adjaye has been selected as the master planner for the project, which seeks to redevelop the plaza as part of a five-year plan to “redefine Restoration’s role for the 21st century,” the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation announced today. The goal is to level the economic playing field for Brooklynites of color as money pours into central Brooklyn.

Formerly the Sheffield Farms Milk Bottling Plant, the plaza opened in 1972, with 300,000 square feet of commercial space, including the Billie Holiday Theatre, the Skylight Gallery, one of the biggest grocery stores in Brooklyn, local businesses and nonprofits. A previous seven-year-long renovation of Restoration Plaza and other public plazas on Fulton Street, an effort to integrate it better with the neighborhood and streetscape, was completed in 2013.

bed stuy restoration plaza

This, they say, is different. “It’s overdue,” Colvin W. Grannum, president of the Bed Stuy Restoration Corporation told Brownstoner. “We’ve been thinking about it for some time.”

Established in 1967 by Robert F. Kennedy, with the cooperation of Senator Jacob K. Javits and Mayor John W. Lindsay and in collaboration with local activists, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. was the country’s first community development corporation. It was made up of ministers, lawyers, other professionals and community activists. The organization is still active, assisting residents with job training, financial issues including home ownership, and affordable housing units in the area.

Part of the plan is to build around the idea of four pillars that are core to the BSRC’s mission: a new Center for Personal Financial Health, a Center for Community Asset Building, a new Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and the continued growth of RestorationART, with the Billie Holiday Theatre “as its cultural centerpiece.”

bed stuy restoration plaza

There will be 400,000 square feet of new office space for businesses large and small — including permanent and pop-up space for local entrepreneurs. The focus is “disrupting and closing the wealth gap,” Grannum says, incorporating both income and asset building.

smithsonian

The National Museum of African American History & Culture. Photo by Alan Karchmer

Adjaye is an inspired choice for the project. The architect, who was born in Tanzania to Ghanaian diplomatic parents, designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and the Sugar Hill mixed-use development in Harlem, among many other projects. In Brooklyn, he designed the Clinton Hill studio of artist Lorna Simpson.

Adjaye was just one aspect of the initial proposals the BSRC considered for the project. When he came for the interview, he walked around the premises before meeting with them and then did again after. “We were really struck with how much enthusiasm he had for the project, and how much he was willing to invest personally,” Grannum says, meaning that a portion of the work he is doing on the project will be without charge. “His personal mission aligned with our organizational mission.”

bed stuy restoration plaza

They are looking at it as a “blue sky process,” Grannum says. “We’re thinking fresh slate — what can you do if, in a sense, you start over?” They will also include local residents in the planning process (locals can get involved on their website). “Aside from the physical reconfiguration, we want to take into account the historic uses [of the plaza], as well as uses that residents feel should be integrated.”

bed stuy restoration plaza

bed stuy restoration plaza

With this new plan, they are attempting to look both toward the past and the future through the organization’s sustained mission.

“As the borough has changed, oftentimes physical evidence of the diversity of these neighborhoods doesn’t exist,” he says. “There are no monuments to the contributions that people of color have made to these communities.”

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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