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Q&A with Howard Kolins: Boerum Hill Association President
Howard Kolins has been the President of the Boerum Hill Association for five years but his “day job” is an independent producer of live TV, concerts and corporate events. Kolins worked on “all things Christmas” at Radio City for more than 20 years and has been the production supervisor for the Tony’s TV broadcast for seven seasons. He moved to Boerum Hill in 1985 when it was “wild and wooly.”
Why did you move to Boerum Hill?
I was living on the Upper West Side in a tiny one-bedroom with my wife and when we separated, I wanted a place where I could have air and space and light. The day I came to Boerum Hill to look at apartments I saw seven in one afternoon. The one I chose was the top floor of a home that a young couple had just bought for $25,000 and that they were renovating themselves. I figured that if I were moving all the way to Brooklyn I wanted a backyard and a working fireplace. I got all that plus a 16-by-16 deck, all for $800 per month! I lived there happily for two years -- I loved having friends out to the ‘wilds of Brooklyn’ for outdoor barbecues. A friend and I joined forces two years later and bought a house nearby. The building had a bakery and grocery on the first floor; we lived in the first two floors and rented the rest. I’m still here with my family. When I first moved here the two topics of conversation were crime (it was a pretty sketchy neighborhood then) and home renovations.
What does the Boerum Hill Association do?
We have 400 members and an e-mail list of 1,600 and we want to be the voice of the neighborhood. We have dues but always say ‘we’d rather have your time than your money.’ Our annual holiday pot luck dinner in December used to be held in a member’s home. It’s gotten too big for that -- 120 people now -- so we now have it in the Belarusian church. And every year, the first Saturday of June, we have house tour that lets people take a peek at eight to 10 of the most interesting spaces in the neighborhood. We focus, too, on issues and projects that are important to our neighbors. A few years ago we were instrumental in a rezoning plan (we did it and we did it fast) that will preserve the low rise character of the neighborhood. We have very little green space in our neighborhood and the pocket park, called 16 Sycamores, had become rundown so we organized a clean-up day and then, with the help of the Parks Department and elected officials, got the park overhauled -- new sprinklers, a restored comfort station, and movie nights for kids on the hand ball courts. We’ve also worked closely with the Parent Association of P.S. 38 to help them re-open their library. We bought chairs, software, a scanner, even the fabric for curtains that were made by one of the parents. We want to do all we can to keep this a small and friendly neighborhood. We want to get everyone out on the stoops.
What do you think the nabe will be like in 10 years?
I’m hoping for more of the same. No longer the wilds of Brooklyn, I think we’ll be able to keep the residential feel of the neighborhood. The low-rise scale, the brownstone vibe, the adjacent backyards, all make for a genuine neighborhood feeling. The old fashioned model of shopping -- going from a fish market to a vegetable market to a bakery -- will continue to be a draw. Around the time I moved here, there were many artists who had decamped from Manhattan. A new group of creative people are coming now and hopefully more outlets for creativity like Roulette and The Invisible Dog will keep them coming.