Photo: Gustavo Garcia. A member of South Bronx Unite shows a model of the new H.E.A.R.T.S. center.

Community arts and health hub may open in Mott Haven in 2023

A request for proposals and a $5 million commitment by the city are the first steps in a long road to redevelop the derelict building in the heart of Mott Haven.

Mott Haven residents are hopeful their decade-long wait for a place where the community can get health, education, and culture under one roof may finally become reality. 

The city’s Economic Development Corp. has announced it will launch a public request for proposal (RFP) for the shuttered Lincoln Detox Center building at 349 E. 140th Street. Before doing so, the EDC organized a public meeting on Aug. 20 to gather the community’s input in front of the building on Saturday.

“We want to hear from the community. What is the vision for the space and for the building?” said Fernando Ortiz, the EDC’s Bronx borough director adding that any feedback the agency receives will be considered in the RFP.

Neighbors expressed relief that the project is finally coming to light after years of organizing, but also annoyance with the slow pace of the city’s response to decades of vigorous community involvement to get the center opened.

The grassroots vision for health, education and the arts (HEArts Center) that drove the proposal came about through numerous community events, which were organized before the pandemic by South Bronx Unite and the Mott Haven-Port Morris Community Land Stewards. The groups had already engaged with an architecture firm to develop a scale model for the proposed center, from which it created a feasibility plan.

There is about $5 million available for the project from former Mayor Bill de Balsio’s administration, said City Council member Diana Ayala, adding that more needs to be allocated to make the project work as envisioned.

“This project is going to be roughly around $18 million dollars,”said Ayala, who wants the RFP process to allow enough time for the additional funding to be determined.

The detox center closed in 1978, and operated as the Lincoln Recovery Center until 2012.

“One time I was in the playground [across the street] with my son  kicking a soccer ball around and I saw the skylights missing,” said Mychal Johnson, a founding member of South Bronx Unite, who lives next to the building. He added that he and his colleagues were left with the task of notifying officials about the damage, because no one was taking care of the property.

“The city didn’t know, EDC, the councilmember—they didn’t know,” said Johnson. 

“The city moves at a glacial speed,” said Arif Ulla, executive director of South Bronx Unite. “If it didn’t take this long it wouldn’t be as expensive as it’s going to be.”

The property is currently owned by NYC Health and Hospitals, which will have to sign off on the final project.

The RFP will be launched in early fall and will be open for about three months. The EDC will then need several months to review the proposals, with expectations of starting construction on the new center next year.

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