By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The U.S. and Italian flags were both raised to commemorate the big moment, as a Bensonhurst-based community group founded by Italian-Americans held a ceremony to mark the progress it has made in the construction of a recreational and educational center in the neighborhood.
The Federation of Italian-American Organizations (FIAO) is constructing a six-story building, to be called Il Centro, at 8711 18th Ave. in Bensonhurst. On Oct. 18, a “topping out” ceremony was held at mark the fact that work on the building’s top floor had begun.
More than 200 civic and business leaders and elected officials attended the topping out ceremony. To commemorate the progress, FIAO leaders raised the American and Italian flags to the top of the building as a tribute to the Italian-American community, officials said.
The six-story, Italian-American cultural-community center will provide a new focal point for FIAO, which has provided programs and social services in the neighborhood since the group was founded in 1977. The FIAO provides English language lessons, after-school programs, job training, social service referrals, and other services to Brooklyn residents.
The elected officials who came to help FIAO celebrate the milestone included U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights- Staten Island), Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn), Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst).
The “topping out” represents a milestone for Italian-Americans in New York City and for all residents in southern Brooklyn, according to FIAO leaders, who said the state-of–the-art, 50,000 square-foot building will offer the community the opportunity to learn about the Italian language, literature, culinary riches, history and the arts. The center will also have a gymnasium, swimming pool, fitness center and a rooftop garden.
Golden, who obtained $2 million in state funding for the center, predicted that the facility will be “an awesome place” once it opens a few years from now. “We have taken another step forward to completing this building that will be the newest Brooklyn hub for exemplary services for all," he said.
Il Centro is the first construction project undertaken by the FIAO leadership. The cultural center has been in the planning stages for a decade, officials said.
It will be the first Italian-American cultural and community center in New York City, according to FIAO leaders.
FIAO is ready “to bring its mission to a whole new level,” according to a statement on the group’s website, www.fiaobrooklyn.org. “The center will serve the entire community and will offer many activities and services, including a senior citizens center, an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium, and a performing arts auditorium,” the statement reads.