Cobble Hill community set on restoring old firehouse

There’s a metaphorical fire burning at 299 Degraw Street, a shuttered firehouse once home to Engine Company 204 that has stood dormant for nearly 12 years, as community support is ignited for the edifice to be re-commissioned as a fire-fighting facility for Cobble Hill’s growing community.

Decommissioned by the city in 2003 amidst a rash of post-9/11 cost-cutting measures, the firehouse’s closure stirred up feelings of rage among residents—with the New York Times reporting in May of that year that police had to use “two vans to cart away 12 protesters who had invaded the firehouse to keep it alive.”

Now, with the neighborhood’s former councilmember, Bill de Blasio — one of the 12 protesters arrested when the firehouse closed — serving the city as mayor, Community Board 6, representing Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Columbia Street District, Gowanus, Park Slope and Red Hook, is hopeful that the retired engine company can once again thrive.

“As our local councilmember at the time, you said that, ‘the population is booming in this area, the sale of Engine 204 makes no sense, [and] it is an important resource and essential to the safety of our growing community,’” Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman wrote to de Blasio. “Your leadership on behalf of our community was most inspiring.”

Not only did he protest the firehouse’s closure at the time, but de Blasio also organized a press conference for October 24, 2006, to raise awareness about the firehouse, writing, “although the firehouse has been closed since 2003, it is in jeopardy to disappear forever.”

“The rapid growth of the area, along with the historical presence of the building, makes Engine 204 an essential part of our community. We need to stand up and preserve this historical and functional building,” his 2006 press release read.

According to CB 6, after the fire commissioner notified the community of the mandated closure, de Blasio, joined by then-Councilmember David Yassky, urged the city not to sell off the property outright, but instead, retain ownership of the building and enter into a long-term lease agreement.

Initially, the city issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) to turn the building into a community facility, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra was eventually selected by the city to occupy the space. Ultimately, however, those plans did not come to fruition, as the organization ran into problems financially.

Fast forward to 2015, and Downtown Brooklyn is booming with development—with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) reporting a total of 36 projects totaling $4.2 billion. Twelve residential projects alone account for 8,475 new units of housing, according to CB 6, with DBP estimating as many as 12,500 new residential units in the area.

“Forecasts for residential growth in the Cobble Hill neighborhood and Downtown Brooklyn region have far exceeded expectations from the time you stood with us as our local councilmember,” Hammerman wrote to de Blasio. “I hope you see the merits in this suggestion and will take immediate steps to re-commission this firehouse. Our community stands ready to assist and support you.”

Contacted for comment, the mayor’s office provided this newspaper with a response from Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesperson, which read, “While there is currently no plan to re-commission E-204, the department assesses our operational needs regularly and will continue to do so in all communities throughout the city – including Community Board 6.”

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