Miriam Robertson: ‘We don’t even have a movie theater’

Eye on Real Estate: Contemplating the future or Our Lady of Loreto

October 5, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Miriam Robertson says a cultural center would boost economic development in Brownsville. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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There’s talk about tearing down Our Lady of Loreto, a historic church building in the Ocean Hill section of Brownsville, and constructing affordable housing with space for a ground-floor cultural facility.

That idea does not pass muster with Miriam Robertson.

“It’s very simple. We need a building. Period. For culture. Period,” Robertson, the executive director of Brownsville Heritage House, told Eye on Real Estate.

As a leader of the Brownsville Cultural Coalition, she’s campaigning to get the shuttered century-old church at 124 Sackman St. designated as a city landmark and adaptively reused as a cultural center.

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Landmarking would protect the historic structure from demolition.

“This church has stood for a century. It needs to stand for several more,” Robertson said.

Brownsville is short on entertainment for hard-working families.

“We don’t even have a movie theater,” she said — the last one closed a loooong time ago.

“You say you want to change the neighborhood — we need economic development. A cultural center is the first step to economic development. It creates real jobs,” Robertson said.

“That’s what gives a community pride — jobs.

“Brownsville had a lot of manufacturing jobs through the 1970s. If you lost a job, you’d go down the street and get another,” she said.

The neighborhood is full of NYCHA developments — plus scores of multi-family buildings that belong to NYCHA. So Robertson feels that the Catholic Church shouldn’t insist that Our Lady of Loreto needs to be torn down so affordable housing can be built.

“Stop telling us what we need. Ask us what we need,” Robertson said. “We need entertainment. We need jobs.”

The Brownsville Cultural Coalition would like the subsidiary of Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, which long-term leases Our Lady of Loreto, to issue a new request for proposals (RFP) for the property’s adaptive reuse “with a generous timeline,” Robertson said.

The original RFP in 2013 drew one response, which was disqualified because the bidder wanted to use Our Lady of Loreto as a church and community center. RFP rules had stipulated that public schools, medical facilities and religious institutions were verboten.

Restoring Our Lady of Loreto and turning it into a community cultural center would be a first step towards neighborhood renewal.

“I want there to be a day when people say, ‘I’m so glad I didn’t move out of Brownsville,’” she said.

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