After 34 years of dancing its way around the city, the National Dance Institute has finally found a permanent home.
The nonprofit organization, founded by a former New York City Ballet principal dancer, Jacques d’Amboise, this week closed on an 18,000-square-foot space in a converted Harlem schoolhouse for $6 million. With the construction of its new facility, the institute, which brings dance education and training into New York City public schools in primarily low-income communities, will finally retire its “gypsy” status, as Mr. d’Amboise described it.
“We’ve always dreamt of having a home,” he said. “We kept trying and it almost would happen.”
The institute’s acquisition of its first permanent facility, at 220 W. 148th St., illustrates the piecemeal path to security that midsize arts organizations and other nonprofits sometimes must take.
Since its founding in 1976, the dance group, which serves about 40,000 public-school students on an annual operating budget of about $3.5 million, had borrowed or rented rehearsal and performance space from public schools and facilities such as New York City Center, but had been unable to secure anything permanent despite a nearly decadelong search.
“We’ve never had anything but moving from one space to another,” Mr. d’Amboise said.
But by stringing together several sources of financial and administrative support—from the dance group’s board, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, a private development company and Goldman Sachs‘s Urban Investment Group—it has finally snagged a home base.
The space is contained within what used to be P.S. 90, an abandoned public-school building first constructed in 1905. After widespread foreclosures hit Harlem during New York’s mid-1970s economic crisis, the city took over large swaths of foreclosed properties in the Harlem neighborhood, including the block containing the former school, West 148th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass boulevards. The street was “almost completely blighted,” said Holly Leicht, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s deputy commissioner for development.
After responding to the department’s request for proposals, several developers were selected to revitalize the area, and a group including L+M Development Partners Inc. turned P.S. 90 into a 75-unit condominium.
The building’s community space, however, remained vacant. The city, L+M and Goldman Sachs’s group, which helped finance P.S. 90’s conversion, aimed to sell the property to an educational group. They initially entertained ideas including establishing a day-care center, but the dance institute won out.
“When NDI came along it sort of crystallized everything in many ways,” said Alicia Glen, a Goldman managing director who is head of the Urban Investment Group. “We wanted the community facility to have a use that would complement the neighborhood by being a resource for the community and bringing people from outside the neighborhood into the community.”
A capital campaign launched by the dance group raised more than half of a $20 million goal to cover the purchase and renovation, as well as fund programs in the space and establish its first endowment.
It received a $5 million lead gift from George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society. Goldman provided $3.4 million for the acquisition and construction of the new center, as well as a $75,000 grant to fund NDI’s programming in local Harlem schools. And Goldman’s group sold three of the condo units at slightly below market-rate prices to the dance institute for use as administrative offices, according to the developer.
“The development project itself signals a real momentum in recapturing housing stock that in the mid-’70s was pretty devastated,” said Kate Levin, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, which has advised the dance group in its search for a permanent facility. NDI’s acquisition of the Harlem property, she said, “shows that private developers recognize the value that arts organizations bring to their property and to the community.”
The space will include four dance studios, administrative offices and a gallery. The largest studio will also function as a 175-seat performance space, to be designed by architect Hugh Hardy, who has designed numerous other cultural facilities, including Theatre for a New Audience’s new home in the BAM Cultural District.
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