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Critical public hearing set on homeless shelter proposal for Downtown Brooklyn landmark

Namm's was once one of the biggest department stores in U.S.

October 27, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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A hearing set for Thursday morning by the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services will examine, as one of many items on a long agenda, a plan to establish a homeless shelter at a landmarked Downtown Brooklyn building that once housed one of the area’s most famous stores.

The building, at 1 Hoyt St. (more formally, 1-7 Hoyt St. aka 450-458 Fulton St.) was the former A.I. Namm & Son Department Store, built in 1924-25. In 1923, The New York Times described Namm’s, which was then located at a nearby building on Fulton Street, as the “third largest cash department store in the United States.”

At the time, Namm’s main competition in the Fulton Street area was Abraham & Straus, now the Downtown Brooklyn Macy’s.  According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the motto of B.H. Namm, who was president of the store for several decades during the first half of the 20th century, was  “Don’t sell America short — sell it shirts.”

Namm’s closed in the late 1950s, and since that time the eight-story building has housed a variety of retail stores and offices.  Commercial Café, a commercial real estate website, describes it as a “Class B Office Building.” 

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The item on Thursday’s hearing calls for the creation of “Shelter Facilities for Homeless Single Adults,” with a price tag of nearly $46 million. While not confirmed, the number of beds is believed to be around 150.

The contractor is listed as the African American Planning Commission. The organization’s website describes it as a “multi-service housing, social service, community and economic development organization” that is “committed to reducing homelessness and addressing the related issues of domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, substance abuse, shortage of affordable housing, and unemployment.”  As an address, it lists a Brooklyn post office box.

Another item on Thursday’s agenda will propose a similar contract for roughly $49 million for homeless beds at 316 Atlantic Ave., an already-existing adults’ shelter administered by Black Veterans for Social Justice.

One longtime observer in Downtown Brooklyn was upset by the lack of any public announcements in time for questions to be raised.

“This proposed development of a shelter is a slap in the face to the huge investment in turning around Downtown Brooklyn’s streetscapes,” he said. “I have long retired from work and am only an observer. But this is a ridiculous ploy to give some landlord a sweetheart deal for a project that, generally, has proven to be unmanageable by this city.

“For the comfort of a couple of hundred homeless the city not only spends foolishly — giving money to a landlord instead of better administration of the homeless — and places them in a spot that sets back progress in a critical neighborhood turn-around. It’s no wonder people smart enough to make fortunes run away to other states to reside.”

Residents can access the hearing and testify on a public dial in: 646-992-2010, access code 715 951 139.

City Notice urges public access prior to the start of the 10 a.m. meeting, meaning no later than 9:55 a.m.

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