It was a cause for celebration – and empty stomachs – on Tuesday, October 7 as the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (BCC) joined forces with the Federation of Italian American Organizations (FIAO) to host a special two-in-one event: a sneak peek of the soon-to-be finished Il Centro Italian-American Community Center that doubled as the official kick-off to Brooklyn’s own Italian Restaurant Week, October 8-15.
“The center is certainly coming along,” said Jack Spatola, chairperson of FIAO of the six-story building at the corner of 18th and Benson Avenues he hopes will be open by December. “Even unfinished, it’s full of enthusiasm.”
When it opens, the building will have a library, fitness center, high school-sized gymnasium, office space, rooms for community use, classrooms and a penthouse swimming pool.
It will be the city’s only Italian-American community and cultural center.
“All I can say is wow,” said Carlo A. Scissura, president and CEO of the BCC. “This has been my little labor of love and I’m just so happy to see everybody having a good time.”
Scissura called the center a soon-to-be focal point for South Brooklyn.
“This is the largest cultural development project [in the area] that is not a school,” he said, “and we’re just so excited about it.”
In a powerful thank you to the big players in the room, Scissura – who called Il Centro’s imminent opening “one of the most historic moments in the history not only of Bensonhurst and all of Brooklyn, but in New York City” — paid tribute to Doctor Antonino Parisi, a supporter of the center who has since died and whose estate allocated $1 million to the project.
Il Centro will also be known as the Doctor Parisi Center.
Among the elected officials on hand to help celebrate (many of whom were instrumental in allocating funding toward Il Centro’s construction) were Borough President Eric Adams, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Senator Marty Golden, Assemblymembers Bill Colton and Alec Brook-Krasny, and City Councilmembers Vincent Gentile and Mark Treyger. Former Borough President Marty Markowitz, now vice president of NYC & Company, was also in attendance.
While the construction is nearly complete, going forward, Adams said, Il Centro will continue to be nurtured. “The seeds that Marty and Carlo and Jack and others planted, now the tree has to be watered,” noted Adams. “It still needs the funding to make sure the programs continue, and I want to be a part of the watering.”
Additional reporting contributed by Helen Klein.