Business / Housing

With eye to the future, play looks at Spofford’s past

Marguerite Adams

Majora Carter paused at Spofford on a walking tour she ledt to show her plans for development.

Majora Carter Group campaigns to redevelop shuttered jail

Rita Jones sat handcuffed. Her mother stumbled into the courtroom, whiskey bottle in hand. Because there was no responsible parent to care for her, the judge sentenced Jones to a juvenile detention facility.

The scene was enacted on the stage of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, but it was drawn from everyday life.

It was the climax of “Memories of the Future,” a play produced by Theatre of the Oppressed NYC in collaboration with Majora Carter, the Hunts Point native who hopes the performance will advance her efforts to develop the site of the notorious Spofford juvenile detention center to create housing and businesses. Each scene represented a real-life experience for the cast, according to Melanie Crean, a professor at Parsons The New School for Design.

The play followed the life of a girl and her family over the course of 10 years. It looked at the availability and affordability of childcare, peer pressure, bullying, gang activity and the structure of the family court system as paving stones on the path to Spofford for the 15-year-old Jones.

“The court system needs to change,” Jones said after her performance. “There needs to be more of an effort towards keeping families together instead of breaking them apart. They need to find more resources before deciding to lock people up.”

“These issues have almost become the norm,” Carter said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

By building housing for middle-income people, along with shopping opportunities that now lure them to Manhattan, she hopes to encourage successful people to live in Hunts Point. She says she wants “to harness the power of gentrification,” arguing that as long as the only development in the neighborhood targets the poor with programs that expect them to remain poor, the cycle of poverty can’t be broken.

At the conclusion of the performance, members of the audience were encouraged to come up on stage and offer their own reactions. Melissa Lomba, director of special projects for the Majora Carter Group, stressed to the audience that they were not just “spectators” but “spect-ACTORS.” She wanted them to know that the Majora Carter Group would use the audience’s feedback.

Carter hopes to win the right to demolish the forbidding white building on Spofford Avenue and replace it with rental apartments and upscale commerce. To do that she will need to find a partner with deep pockets and to get the okay to take over the site from the city, which is expected to begin asking for competing proposals this summer.

At rhe performance, Carter broke the ice by being the first person to enact a scene on stage, and after that, the cast members had no trouble getting the other audience members to follow suit. Anna Ramos, a longtime Hunts Point resident, was encouraged by the Carter Group’s efforts to redevelop the Spofford site.

“It was really good to get the responses we wanted,” Carter said. “We can plan for bigger aspirations in this community.”

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