By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brownsville's transformation took a leap forward as residents, representatives and developer POKO Partners celebrated the rebirth of the historic building that was once the Loews Pitkin Theater, at a ribbon cutting ceremony last Thursday.
Brownsville Ascend Charter School will occupy the top eight floors of the building, with retail space on the ground floor.
After decades as the cultural heart of Brownsville, the once-striking building deteriorated substantially and eventually closed in 1969. The redevelopment preserves architectural details such as the terra-cotta ornamentation, while providing modern, light-filled spaces for the school.
Brownsville Ascend Charter School opened in 2009 as the second school in the Ascend network. This year Brownsville Ascend will serve kindergarten through grade 4.
Ascend schools employ the SABIS educational curriculum, a highly structured system used by some charter schools, together with what is called the “No Excuses” school culture to “close the achievement gap and place every student on the path to college.”
This spring, Brownsville Ascend scored higher on state tests in English Language Arts and math than its school district, New York City and the state as a whole. A similar school in the network, Brooklyn Ascend Charter School, was a top performer in the English section of the 2012 state tests. Brooklyn Ascend and Brownsville Ascend will operate a combined high school on the upper floors.
According to Ascend, their schools occupy privately leased space at market rates, do not rely on philanthropic support, and are fully self-sustaining. This sets Ascend apart from many other charter schools in New York City, where parents often complain that charter schools “co-locating” into their traditional school buildings have led to a loss of classrooms and resources for their children.
“We’re delighted to partner with POKO Partners to bring a college preparatory education to the students of Brownsville,” said Steven F. Wilson, president of Ascend Learning. “The staff and students of Brownsville Ascend are thrilled to call the iconic Pitkin Theater their new home. Each year, our students will remain resolutely on the path to college, and see their first graduating class in 2021.”
Community leaders called the renovation a key milestone in the revitalization of the once vibrant Pitkin Avenue corridor. The $43.3 million adaptive reuse project was financed under the New Markets Tax Credit program with financing provided by Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, Seedco Financial Services, Inc., the Nonprofit Finance Fund, Carver Community Development Corporation and The Rose Urban Green Fund.
During a challenging economic environment, “The Loews Pitkin Theater project embodies POKO’s core values of revitalizing neighborhoods and enhancing communities through positive and responsible real estate development,” said Ken Olson, President and CEO of POKO Partners.
Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator John Sampson and other community leaders took part in the ribbon-cutting.