Monday, August 6, 2012

Developers Line Up for Bed-Stuy’s Famed Slave Theater

After the fate of the famed Bedford-Stuyvesant Slave Theater languished in limbo for 14 years, buyers with big plans are now stepping up, with hotels, theaters and condominiums proposed for the Fulton Street site. The redevelopment project could top $80 million and create hundreds of construction jobs.

One developer wants to construct a hotel and a second theater behind the Fulton St. cultural venue that was a haven of civil rights activism in the 1980s, while another is a condominium developer.

The developer would renovate the long-defunct theater and buy Halsey Street properties behind it to construct a Red Roof Inn as well as the theater, a $74 million project all told.

The purchase offer is one of five that the estate of late Brooklyn Civil Court Judge John Phillips, is considering as the Slave faces a court auction to pay off $190,000 in liens. The auction — which was supposed to take place Aug. 9 — was pushed back to November after the approximately $2 million purchase offers were nailed down last week.

At least one other would-be buyer vows to return the shuttered Fulton Street building to its use as a theater. New Brooklyn Theater, a group formed by theatrical producer Sarah Wolff and director Jonathan Solari to restore the Slave, is gaining traction online with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $200,000 for a down payment.

The group isn’t one of the five that made formal offers to Boykin — but hopes for a place at the negotiating table after five months in talks with Boykin. “We want to make this a center for Brooklyn artists,” Wolff said. “This building is waiting to be saved.”

The group’s 60-day Kickstarter campaign, launched on August 5, has so far raised $18,159. “If we come out the winner, the community will win,” she said.

Other potential buyers are unlikely to reopen the padlocked building as a theater. One is a clothing retailer, said the Rev. Samuel Boykin, who is the Phillips’ nephew and in charge of the estate.

Another is a Brooklyn condominium developer, Ore International, a lawyer involved in the auction told Wolff. The developer has done condominium conversions of row houses and new residential construction in Clinton Hill, Carroll Gardens and Prospect Park South.

Boykin has been struggling for three years to sell the theater. Unpaid tax bills on the Slave and two other properties total $3.4 million. “We owe the government a lot of money,” said Boykin.

For the sake of his uncle’s legacy, Boykin would like to choose a buyer who will make the Slave a theater again — but can do so only if it’s “financially feasible,” Boykin said. “We have to escape the guillotine. The buyer who can show they can close on this sale,” he said, “is the buyer we want.”