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London co-living company buys Bed-Stuy’s Slave Theater site

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The historic theater was torn down in 2017

The Slave Theater in 2006.

The saga of Bed-Stuy’s historic Slave Theater, once a nexus of black culture and political activism, has been long and complicated. And now, its next chapter—redevelopment into a new, mixed-use structure—is on the horizon. London-based firm The Collective announced that it has acquired (along with Tower Holdings Group) the site at 1215 Fulton Street for $32.5 million, and that it intends to construct a co-living building there.

“We are committed to honoring the rich history of the Slave Theater and the legacy of Judge John L. Philipps,” the company said in a statement. “We will develop our proposals with open eyes and ears, and a commitment to ensuring a positive impact for the neighborhood and the people living in it.”

The Slave Theater was a Bed-Stuy icon: Judge John Phillipps opened the space in 1984, and it later became a hub of activity for activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who held rallies there in the ’80s. The theater closed in 1998, and after Phillipps died in 2008, it became embroiled in a dramatic ownership dispute with allegations of elder abuse, back taxes, and politically-motivated revenge. It changed hands several times in the ensuing years, and despite the efforts of supporters to stop redevelopment and landmark the building, by 2016, it was fully demolished. The site went up for sale again last year, and was asking $37.95 million at the time.

The Collective is behind Old Oak, a 550-unit co-living tower that opened in London in 2016. In addition to its apartments (a mix of studios and shared suites), the complex includes a co-working space, a restaurant, and other services. Rents there average around £256/week, or around $337.

Concrete plans for the Fulton Street site are still being fleshed out, but the company is planning similar offerings to its London property, according to Sam Garfield, the strategic communications and growth lead of the Collective’s U.S. operations. The company plans to meet with key stakeholders in Bed-Stuy to assess how it can best fit into its new neighborhood.

“We are really interested in neighborhoods that have deep community to begin with, that are representative of incredibly diverse populations with deep cultural roots,” Garfield tells Curbed. She says that the company will “not apply a cookie cutter or rubber stamp approach to how we approach programming,” but will instead be more “site-specific” after getting input from the community. Part of that may include publicly accessible classes and workshops, along with other events.

The Collective also plans to construct another co-living building in Brooklyn, close to the Broadway Triangle. As Curbed previously reported, that building is slated to include a food hall, a “community-focused restaurant and bar,” several co-working areas, and a landscaped, outdoor plaza with artwork and public seating. Both projects are due to be complete by 2022.