The red carpet was not rolled out for Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheál Martin in Hell’s Kitchen today — but there was a single red brick in his honor.
The Prime Minister, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, came across town to dedicate the new Irish Arts Center (IAC) by unveiling a plaque mounted with a red brick preserved from the original 11th Avenue auto repair shop that was founded in 1916 — the year of Ireland’s historic Easter Rising.
IAC Executive Director Aidan Connolly said: “You will see a brick here from the original Cybert Tires building. You will see the facade that has been preserved as part of this new building, which is a manifestation of the old and the new. That’s what we are all here to celebrate.” The event was a building dedication by the Taoiseach ahead of its completion and opening.
Martin then unveiled the brick before taking a tour of the new center with IAC board members and local elected officials, including Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Keith Powers. “Their ability to share Irish culture while breathing new life into its history embodies NYC’s ongoing immigrant story: building bridges to better understand one another, wherever we’re from,” said Johnson via Twitter. In his final budget as Speaker, Johnson awarded $2 million to help the IAC’s project.
The Irish Arts Center was founded in 1972 and had been based in an aging tenement on W51st Street since 1974. The new purpose-built home just around the corner on 11th Avenue is linked to the previous arts building. The old tenement will now be refurbished along with the wood-paneled 100 seat theater to complete the complex.
More than $54 million was raised for the project. Both Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson were honorary co-chairs, and Byrne can be credited with the idea of a new center. “Gabriel is our visionary,” said Connolly in a 2016 interview with W42ST.
The Irish Prime Minister described it as a fantastic venue and said that it “will showcase the best of Irish art and culture and the best of Irish American art and culture and the connections between the two.”
The center is still a few weeks away from opening. Cybert Tires is in a temporary home on W52nd Street — but will soon move to purpose-built premises on W53rd Street.
The IAC worked with Clinton Housing Development Company — who were the landlords for both IAC and Cybert Tires — to “complement the urban context of today’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood while engaging in dialogue with history”.
The state-of-the-art contemporary performance space will host world-class Irish theatre, dance and music performances, cross-disciplinary works, installations, and special events. The new theater has flexible seating with seating for up to 200 (and more for standing events).