Italian Restaurant Week kicks off at Bensonhurst’s new Italian-American Community Center
Benvenuti a Il Centro!
Brooklyn’s Italian Restaurant Week kicked off on Tuesday night with a sneak peek at Il Centro, Bensonhurst’s soon-to-be-open Italian-American Community Center. Elected officials and local residents gathered to get a glimpse of the new building while chowing down on some of Brooklyn’s delectable Italian food.
“Let me welcome you all to what is, in our opinion, one of the most historic moments in not just Bensonhurst, but all of Brooklyn — which is a sneak peek of New York City’s first Italian community cultural center…right at the heart of Italian New York City — Bensonhurst, Brooklyn,” said Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
The new six-story community center is expected to open in December. Bensonhurst’s Italian-American population has been dwindling fast in recent years. Asian immigrants make up at least 40 percent of the population, according to the latest census data, but Italians are still the largest European-based immigrant population in New York City, the third largest ethnic group in the city and the largest immigrant population in New York State.
Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz was on hand during the event and while he lamented the fact that many Italians have left the neighborhood, he is hopeful that the community center will bring some of them back, if only just for a visit.
“I want our Italian American families that moved to New Jersey and those that moved to the suburbs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, to hear us clearly — it is time to come home,” Markowitz said. “This Italian-American center is a statement that says we will always treasure the contributions that Italian Americans have made to Brooklyn, New York and America.”
Once completed, the building will host programs and services, including social services, educational and cultural, and quality of life programs provided by the Federation of Italian American Organizations (FIAO).
There will be multi-purpose gathering rooms, a large kitchen for culinary classes, classrooms that will teach Italian, a library and teaching center, an office to provide social services, a cultural hall, a bocce court, a pool, a fitness center and a sports center for basketball, volleyball, soccer and tennis. The rooftop will provide a great view of the Narrows and Manhattan.
Many local elected officials — including state Sen. Marty Golden, Assemblymembers Bill Colton and Alec Brook-Krasny, Congressman Jerry Nadler, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilmembers Vincent Gentile and Mark Treyger, and District Leaders Nancy Tong and Joseph Bova — joined in celebrating on Tuesday.
Nearly every one of the elected officials made a point to thank Jack Spatola, the FIAO’s chairman of the board, who was the driving force behind opening the community center. Nadler said that it was the first thing that Spatola mentioned to him when he was elected 22 years ago.
“There were a lot of people that had the faith, vision and courage to make this happen,” Spatola said. “You always have to look forward. You have to look at what you need to do tomorrow in order to create a better tomorrow. That was the whole idea behind the center. We didn’t look at the changing community. We did not look at what it should have been 20 or 30 years ago. We’re going to make the best of it and make it extremely significant.”
Spatola thanked Golden for providing the initial $2 million to get the project started. Golden said, “We could not have believed in the project if it wasn’t given to us in a way that made sense. You brought something to me that made sense.”
The event also kicked off the start of the second annual Italian Restaurant Week, during which more than 40 restaurants will feature deals to celebrate their current customers as well as draw in new ones.
From now through Oct. 15, many Italian restaurants throughout the borough will offer lunch specials from $15 to $20 and dinner specials from $20 to $30. For information on participating restaurants, go to ibrooklyn.com.
“Restaurant week is always great because it brings in so many new customers and gets people to come to Brooklyn,” said Marco Chirico, owner of Marco Polo in Carroll Gardens. “Italian Restaurant Week is even better because…I don’t want to brag, but Italian food is the best.”
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