Irish Arts Center Expansion Program Approved

Rendering of the new Irish Arts Center on 11th Avenue.  Image credit: Ciaran O’Connor, Office of Public Works, Ireland

Rendering of the new Irish Arts Center on 11th Avenue. Image credit: Ciaran O’Connor, Office of Public Works, Ireland

Program will permit a new 30,000-square foot facility and expansion of community garden. On September 10, 2014, the City Council voted unanimously to approve an application which would facilitate the Irish Arts Center’s construction of a new facility and expand the existing Juan Alonso Community Garden. The application was proposed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The new Irish Arts Center will be located on 11th Avenue between West 51st Street and West 52nd Street. The Garden expansion will improve a 1,255-square foot paved driveway at 555 West 51st Street and incorporate the space into the existing public garden.

The Irish Arts Center is presently located in a three-story tenement building at 553 West 51st Street where it has been housed since 1974. The current Center features a 99-seat performance space, a small lobby used as an art gallery and dance studio, and several small rooms on the upper floors for classrooms, meeting space, and offices. The new Center will consist of a 30,000-square foot facility in an L-shaped lot fronted on 11th Avenue between West 51st Street and West 52nd Street, and extending along West 51st Street between 10th Avenue and 11th Avenue. The new Center will consist of a five-story building on the 11th Avenue side of the lot, a three-story building on the West 51st Street side, and a two-story building at the rear of the lot connecting the two. The new Center will feature a dedicated performing arts theater, dance rehearsal studio, classrooms, office space, ground-floor community space for small performances, and outdoor terraces.

On June 4, 2014, Manhattan Community Board 4 held a public hearing and voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project. On July 7, 2014, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer issued her recommendation approving the application. The borough president praised the community-based planning and cooperation between the Center and the neighborhood that went into the proposal, saying “This collaboration has ensured the best possible project and has resulted in a proposed building that is appropriate to its surroundings.” On July 9, 2014, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposal. Eleven speakers spoke in favor of the proposal, including HPD’s Deputy Director for Manhattan Planning, the Chair of Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee for Community Board 4, and Noel Kilkenny, Ambassador and Consul-General of Ireland in New York City. In his testimony, Consul-General Kilkenny called the new Irish Arts Center “another great chapter in the enduring relationship between Ireland and New York City.” No public opposition was raised against the Center. On August 6, 2014, the Commission voted unanimously to approve the application.

On September 3, 2014, the City Council Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions voted unanimously to approve the Center expansion. In the hearing, Council Member Mark Treygar called the expansion “long overdue”, saying “You cannot discuss New York City history without discussing the great contributions by American Irish New Yorkers.” Aidan Connolly, Executive Director of the Irish Arts Center, testified that the new Center would be “a place for Irish artists to work with their New York counterparts of all backgrounds on projects that expand the notion of what it is to be an Irish and American and indeed a global cultural citizen in the 21st century in New York City.” On September 4, 2014, the Land Use Committee voted unanimously to approve the expansion. At the City Council’s stated meeting on September 10, 2014, Council Member Corey Johnson, in whose district the Center is located, said the current Center is “severely hampered by the limited space, aging infrastructure, and operational inefficiencies provide by its current accommodations. This project will allow the organization to thrive and continue to contribute to the artistic diversity of New York City.” The full Council voted unanimously to approve the expansion.

City Council: LU 0112-2013 (Sep. 10, 2014); Public Hearing LU 0112-2013 (Sep. 3, 2014).

By: Michael Twomey (Michael is a CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2014)

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