BY TRONE DOWD
Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation held a public meeting at the MS 53 lunchroom in Far Rockaway on Tuesday, giving residents of the island a chance to give input and help reshape the future of the neighborhood’s long abandoned downtown commercial area.
According to Richards, the public meeting was organized with five goals in mind; To re-establish Downtown Far Rockaway’s status as a commercial hub, to make the area an efficiently used district with mixed income housing, to revitalize the neighborhood with new connections and open space, improving the quality of life for residents with community services, education, transportation improvements and building up the capacity of community organizations and making sure local businesses are supported. Between residents and city agencies, the meeting was extremely well-attended, with people quickly filling designated round tables.
Richards established a taskforce with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen to tackle and address these issues, with representatives from different city agencies and elected officials, including the NAACP, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), Assemblywoman Michele Titus (D-Far Rockaway) state Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Far Rockaway) and Borough President Melinda Katz’s office, the Queens Library and a few others.
“When you walk through this neighborhood, you see a lot of blight. But you also see opportunity. There is so much opportunity for such underutilized space,” Richards told the Press of Southeast Queens.
Richards was referring to the area’s many vacant lots, stores and properties, despite the area showing promise in the past as a legitimate area of commerce in recent years. He recalled that during Hurricane Sandy, Downtown Far Rockaway became a hub for those looking for food and assistance, and he believes that progress has been held up due to mismanagement of land and lack of investment.
“For years, Rita Stark, who also owns the Hollis Property, has held up 40 years of progress here,” Richards said, noting that the real estate mogul did not support a 10,000 square-foot vacant mall. “For 40 years, we’ve had a vacant mall site, when we had the unemployed walking past that everyday. So today is really about the resurgence of Far Rockaway.”
Through the use of eminent domain, the city has been able to reclaim the property from Stark and move forward in making Far Rockaway thrive as it once did four decades ago.
Revitalizing Far Rockaway has been a top prioritiy for Richards since he was elected in 2013. Just last month, the City Department of Transportation hosted a workshop to get community feedback as part of a multi-year long $1.1. million study. It is one of the many issues Richards believes will help his constituents and local businesses thrive. He also said that he made it his “mission to fight tooth and nail” to make sure Far Rockaway’s business district was established, securing $500,000 for improvements in the area and getting Mayor Bill de Blasio on board to invest another $12 million.
Other improvements the neighborhood has seen are the new Q114 line which gets Rockaway residents to Jamaica quicker, mixed income housing in Edgemere and the opening of Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins at the long vacant Stark property which Richards said he saw as “a start.”
Maria Torres-Springer, President and CEO of the NYC EDC was in attendance and told the Press of Southeast Queens about her vision for Far Rockaway.
“Having spent quite a bit of time in this area, […] one of the things I find pretty astounding is the commitment and participation of residents and businesses here,” she said. “This is the kind of thing we want to harness.”
Torres-Springer said that she hopes that the feedback will help “improve the business environment, quality of life and the future prospects for people here.”
In the past EDC has played a major part in the revitalization of several key areas across New York City, including Coney Island’s historic Amusement District and, more recently, their part in the Jamaica Now Action Plan first revealed in April 2015 with Katz.
Those who were unable to make the meeting are encouraged to check out Richards’ website or Facebook for more information.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly.