Gala of the Century: How the Brooklyn Chamber Lived It Up

Celebrating its 100th anniversary, the business group had a ball, complete with a marching band and Coney Island side shows

Chamber CEO Andrew Hoan, left of cake, and Chair Denise Arbesu, to the right, hosted the extravaganza (Photos for The Bridge by Colin Clark)

This was not your typical Chamber of Commerce meeting, the kind with coffee and fruit salad, starting at an earnest 8 a.m. No, what took place on Saturday night was a full baccanalia, a 100-year flood of festivity. Which was appropriate, since the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce was determined to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding in a memorable way.

That business goal was achieved. Few of the nearly 1,000 party-goers at the downtown Marriott hotel will forget being greeted at the door by Serpentina, the Coney Island snake charmer wrapped in a very large reptile. Nor are they likely to forget the sword swallower, the marching band, the mountain of shrimp and oysters, or the free-flowing beverages. “I want you to know you’re drinking only Brooklyn-made beer, wine and spirits. So you’re supporting the local economy,” toasted Andrew Hoan, the Chamber’s CEO and president.

The celebrants were duly impressed. “This is amazing to see,” said Juan Perez, CEO of Highbrid Media, a multicultural marketing company. “I’ve been to many chamber galas, but this is a momentous occasion.”

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After the speeches were made, the dancing broke out

At the podium, Hoan ticked off the markers of Brooklyn’s growth and renaissance: “We continue on the path to being the third-largest city in America by 2020,” he said, adding that the borough has produced eight consecutive years of private-sector job growth and now boasts a $110 billion economy. “Brooklyn is an economic force to be reckoned with,” he said. Chamber chairperson Denise Arbesu, the first female and first Latina in that role, said that among the group’s accomplishments, she is most proud of establishing Brooklyn Alliance Capital, which makes loans to small businesses owned by women, minorities and immigrants.

While booming Brooklyn may feel like the real center of New York City right now, as one presenter noted, there was also a sense of look-how-far-we’ve-come. Several in the crowd recalled that the “outer borough” description was once painfully accurate. “I grew up here, we’re a five-generation Brooklyn family. Back in the day, no one wanted to live here,” said Laura Imperiale, founder and CEO of Athena Consulting Group. “But now there’s been such an economic revitalization due to organizations like the Chamber that are really putting Brooklyn back on the map.”

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Serpentina, the Coney Island snake charmer, with a willing participant

Craig Matthews, who led the Chamber in the 1990s, recalled: “Back when I was chairman, we were trying to promote the heck out of of Brooklyn. We were big supporters of this hotel and its construction. The chamber only had a couple of hundred members and now there are thousands. This is an exciting event and very well-deserved.”

Asked what the Chamber does for them, many celebrants cited the networking opportunities. Said Donald Boomgaarden, president of St. Joseph’s College, “We create connections with business people here for our students.” Regina Scire, a vice president of Investors Bank, a New Jersey-based company that started expanding into Brooklyn only a few years ago, said the Chamber helped introduce them to their new neighbors. “We attend all their business mixers. They helped us get our brand out in the borough,” she said.

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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, second from left, with Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello, former City Council Member Una Clarke (in hat) and a fellow party-goer

One gaggle of partygoers was conspicuous for the vehicle they parked out front: a large red bus from Big Bus Tours, which calls itself “the largest operator of open-top sightseeing tours in the world.” Four years ago, the company started offering bus-tour loops through Brooklyn; now it’s lobbying with authorities to add more stops in the borough. Emblematic of Brooklyn’s growth as a tourist destination, said Jeremy Medanich, the local trade-sales manager: “On my ride here from Greenpoint, I passed six new hotels on the way.”

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But perhaps the best grace note to the whole extravaganza was offered by Marie Roberts, an artist-in-residence at Coney Island USA, who painted the event’s amusement-themed murals: “Brooklyn is opportunity for everybody.”

What follows is a gallery of party photos from the Chamber’s big night out:

The BKSteppers marching band got the party started with some big-drum beats

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A party-goer takes a virtual-reality tour, courtesy of the Chamber’s Explore Brookyn program

Regina Myer, chief of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, at right, got a kick out of what she heard from a fellow party guest

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An excellent pairing of beverage and ball gown

Katepalli Sreenivasan (center), dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, sported a stylish metallic-red bowtie, while former Borough President Marty Markowitz sported a “Brooklyn” lapel pin

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Pumping out the beats at the DJ stand

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Joseph Mattone, Sr., at center, one of the partners in building the MetroTech Center and many other projects, was among the recipients of the Brooklyn Century Award

Ingrid Lewis-Martin, senior advisor to the Brooklyn borough president, and State Assemblyman N. Nick Perry

As befits Brooklyn, some of the best outfits at the party involved permanent ink

Public displays of affection were in abundance at the party, hugging included

Charles Archer, CEO of the Thrive Network (in tuxedo) shares a laugh with Ana Oliveira (center), regional manager of Investors Bank, one of the gala’s sponsors

Carlo Scissura, left, the immediate past CEO of the Chamber, could lean back and relax this time–no speeches required

Ashley Holt, founder of Brooklyn’s Sugar Monster Sweets, who created the centennial cake for the event

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Among the Coney Island sideshows was a sword swallower, who even allowed trustworthy-looking guests to withdraw the sword from his mouth

Besides their formal wear, guests came equipped with smartphones (some in bedazzled cases) to document the event and swap contact info

There they go again!

One of the most elegantly textured suits was worn by City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr.

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Among the Brooklyn Century Award winners was Bruce Ratner, executive chairman of Forest City New York, with former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, as they perused an exhibit of old Brooklyn Daily Eagle front pages

From the Chamber team: Crystal Wong (left), director of finance, and Stella Lai, Navigator enrollment coordinator

The card trickster at the event kept people guessing well into the evening

TD Bank executive Peter Meyer, in tuxedo at right, got a front-row position at the candle-lighting, which was fitting, since his bank was the event’s top sponsor

They could have danced all night–and some of them did

The classic sign, hauled out as a backdrop for the event, might have to be updated–the Chamber’s Hoan said the growing borough is heading toward No. 3 by 2020

But who would want to leave?