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Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation was established in 1967 as one of the first community development corporations in the United States.

Location: 1368 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216 United States  |  Google Maps
Neighborhood: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
People: Jane Jacobs, Jacob Javits, Thomas R. Jones, Robert F. Kennedy, Kevin Lynch, Roderick Mitchell, Elsie Richardson, Francine Thomas, Franklin A. Thomas, Frank Thompson
Organizations: Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council, Edgar M. Stern Family Fund, Ford Foundation, J. M. Kaplan Fund, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Pratt Center for Community Development, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Taconic Foundation 
Places: Restoration Plaza
Above: Restoration Plaza; Photo by Eduard Hueber

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the nation’s first community development corporation, partners with residents and businesses to improve the quality of life of Central Brooklyn by fostering economic self-sufficiency; creating healthy, stable families; promoting the arts and culture; and transforming the neighborhood into a safe, vibrant place to live, work, and visit.1

December 9, 1966: Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Mayor John Lindsay, and Senator Jacob Javits established the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

1971: The Stuyvesant Heights Historic District is designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, one of the first community development corporations in the country, serves as a model for community and economic revitalization in low-income areas. The organization was established in 1967 after Senator Robert F. Kennedy toured the poverty-stricken area of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Historically, the Bedford-Stuyvesant enclave in Brooklyn had been a cohesive neighborhood with a strong economy. At the turn of the 20th century, its inhabitants were mostly white and middle class with some Jewish and Italian immigrants who moved to the area upon completion of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1907.2 The neighborhood was renowned for its beautiful brownstone homes, tree-lined streets, and community character. In the 1930s, the area experienced an influx of West Indian immigrants and African Americans from the American South, who moved to New York City in hopes of employment opportunities. The construction of the A train from Harlem to Brooklyn in 1936 also contributed to African American migration to Bedford-Stuyvesant due to cheaper rents.3

In the 1950s and 60s, Bedford-Stuyvesant experienced an economic decline due to urban renewal and political manipulation of lower income inhabitants. As Jewish and Italians moved to Queens because of the post-war economic boom, Mayor Wagner’s urban renewal projects in Manhattan further pushed displaced African Americans into Bedford-Stuyvesant. From 1940 to 1960, the population had shifted from 75% white to 85% African American and Latino.

As whites began to move to the suburbs, African Americans were denied jobs, loans for home ownership, loans for local businesses, health care facilities, and street improvements. Real estate brokers also played on the fears of potential white homeowners. The physical fabric of the community deteriorated at a fast rate: brownstones were crumbling and street corners were lined with piles of trash. During the Civil Rights Movement, racial tensions were high and riots pervaded across Harlem and into Bedford-Stuyvesant. By the 1960s, eighty percent of young adults were high school dropouts, while 28% of the population had an annual income of under $3,000.4

As crime and poverty escalated, community members realized that something had to change. Community activist Elsie Richardson, in order to address the major issues facing the deterioration of Bedford Stuyvesant, founded the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council (CRCC). It was an umbrella organization representing 90 church and neighborhood groups. The Pratt Institute's Urban Planning Department conducted a six month long survey of local housing conditions. Although they discovered that the houses were in dire need of improvement, 22.5% of the houses were owner occupied, providing a strong foundation for the potential for historic rehabilitation.5

The real impetus for change occurred when Senator Robert F. Kennedy toured the neighborhood in 1966. Kennedy realized that the racial issues facing the nation had changed from oppression in the American South to urban blight and racial disparities in northern cities. His tour of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 1966 only reinforced the knowledge of these calamities. At the end of the tour, Kennedy met with community members at the YMCA to discuss solutions to the decline of the area. Community members were incredulous about this public spectacle and pressured Kennedy to put action behind his ideas for community and economic revitalization.6

Senator Kennedy's major ideas emphasized the important role of the community in economic development. Building pride and social ties combined with providing financial incentives for economic development led to the renaissance of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“The program for the development of Bedford Stuyvesant will combine the best of community action with the best of the private enterprise system. Neither by itself is enough, but in their combination lies our hope for the future.”- Robert F. Kennedy

On December 9, 1966, at Public School 305, Senator Kennedy, Mayor Lindsay, and Senator Jacob Javits established the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC).8 This organization consisted of African American community members who worked on innovative methods for street cleanup, brownstone rehabilitation, and housing development. Judge Thomas R. Jones served as the chairman, and New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Franklin A. Thomas served as the first president. The major funding for the BSRC came from the Taconic Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the Edgar M. Stern Family Fund, the J. M. Kaplan Fund, and the Ford Foundation, which Kennedy had helped secure.9

After the organization was created, BSRC purchased an historic milk bottling plant with plans to adaptively reuse the building for their headquarters and a mixed-use commercial center.10 Named Restoration Plaza, the complex was completed in 1972. Today it serves as the offices for BSRC, the Billie Holiday Theater, two banks, an ice-skating rink, a supermarket, and various stores and restaurants.

Since its inception, the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation has employed over 20,000 residents and rehabilitated and constructed 2,200 housing units. Furthermore, Restoration Plaza provides a health care facility, social services, an art gallery, job opportunities, and educational programs.

Despite several setbacks caused by federal budget cuts in the Reagan administration, by 1988 Roderick Mitchell, president of the BSRC, expanded its funding base and continued to strengthen ties with the community.

The 1990s saw a sharp increase of middle class African American home ownership. Today Bedford-Stuyvesant is one of the largest rehabilitated brownstone neighborhoods in the country. The Restoration Plaza has now become an economic center while still promoting the diverse culture of the neighborhood. Although gentrification can often be a result of economic prosperity, the BSRC has succeeded in preventing displacement by binding the community with new residents.11

In March 2009, Mayor Bloomberg approved the creation of the Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business Improvement District in order to strengthen economic development by providing more retail options, upgrading storefront appearance, and implementing street cleanup.12

The BSRC helped to save Bedford-Stuyvesant from urban renewal. Bedford Stuyvesant was one of the only neighborhoods in the 1950s that had never received federal aid for urban renewal despite 10 years of attempts.13 In hindsight, it protected the architectural elements of a once thriving community. By the time BSRC was created, urban planners were prescient that "tower in the park" public housing was not the best solution for solving urban blight. The mid-1960s saw seminal works such as Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Kevin Lynch's Image of the City, which disseminated the importance of historic resources and mixed-use development in creating livable communities.

The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation realized the benefits of working with the existing historic structures from an economic and community development standpoint. For example, they adaptively reused an historic milk bottling plant for their headquarters. According to Francine Thomas, a former senior mortgage officer for BSRC, the brownstone revival was fundamental to community development due to the cost-benefits, adaptability, functionality, and the connectivity of the community, which the brownstones engendered.14

In addition, BSRC started a program to rehabilitate historic brownstones by weatherproofing exteriors and cleaning the facades.15 In an effort to provide jobs for local teens and adults, President of BSRC, Frank Thompson "literally had to walk the streets recruiting people for the job training program."16 By 1996, BSRC had successfully renovated 4,200 units, providing over 2,000 jobs for the local community.

As a result of these efforts to clean up the facades of these brownstones and weatherizing their exteriors, BSRC helped establish the neighborhood as being eligible for historic district status. In 1971, the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District was designated as a New York City Landmark. The district contains 12 blocks with a variety of Romanesque, Queen Anne, and early Neo-Grec architectural styles.17

Furthermore, the BSRC was involved with the preservation of the Hunterfly Road houses. After the Hunterfly Road houses in Weeksville were designated as landmarks by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History lacked the necessary funds to protect and rehabilitate the houses. In 1973, BSRC purchased the Hunterfly Road houses in Weeksville. In order to protect the houses, they covered the structures with plastic sheeting. Several years later, the houses were repurchased by the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford Stuyvesant History.

More recently, BSRC has launched a program in conjunction with the Pratt Center for Community Development to retrofit historic structures and brownstones in Bedford-Stuyvesant in order to reduce energy usage. The goal is to retrofit 5,000 homes, provide incentives to homeowners who reduce energy costs, and encourage sustainability in commercial outlets.

  • Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
    1368 Fulton Street
    Brooklyn, NY 11216
  1. “Mission Statement,” Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Article retrieved 23 March 2016 
  2. 
 Jack Newfred, “Robert Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Legacy,” New York Magazine, 16 December 1968.
  3. 
 Ibid.
  4. 
 Ibid.
  5. 
 Ibid.
  6. 
 Ibid.
  7. “History,” Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Article retrieved 23 March 2016 
  8. 
 Jack Newfred, “Robert Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Legacy,” New York Magazine, 16 December 1968.
  9. 
 Ibid.
  10. “History,” Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Article retrieved 23 March 2016 
  11. 
“Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation Marks 40 Years Amid Gentrification Chatter,” New York Observer, 20 June 2008.
  12. 
 “Bed-Stuy Gateway BID Gets City Council Approval,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 August 2004.
  13. 
 Jack Newfred, “Robert Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Legacy,” New York Magazine, 16 December 1968.
  14. 
 Joseph Giovanni, “New Life for the Brownstones of Bedford-Stuyvesant,” The New York Times, 10 October 1985.
  15. 
 http://prattcenter.net
  16. 
 Jack Newfred, “Robert Kennedy’s Bedford Stuyvesant Legacy,” New York Magazine, 16 December 1968.
  17. Stephanie Griffith, “Bedford-Stuyvesant Restudied For New Historic Designation,” The New York Times, 29 March 1987.