About a dozen local owners gathered last week to learn about a new storefront improvement program and how it fits into the downtown's overall redesign, as well as share their concerns about the area's future.
Far Rockaway in general moving forward with a much-needed improvement. Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his office would be investing $91 million in the area, including Mott Avenue, Central Avenue, Beach 20th Street and Cornaga Avenue. The centerpiece of the project is a brand-new, nearly $30 million library, which elected officials announced last year.
Valerie West, director of Community Relations and Government Affairs with The Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation (RDRC), said that the area has been neglected for a long time.
“Now everyone's looking at downtown to make sure it's revitalized,” she said.
Kevin Alexander, president and CEO of RDRC, called the city's investment and what's happening in the area “historic.”
“It's been this way for 30 to 40 years, so it's not going to change overnight,” he said. “But with the mayor's announcement two weeks ago of $91 million coming into this district for infrastructure, streetscape improvements, roadways improvements, that's a major step in revitalizing downtown Far Rockaway.”
This storefront improvement plan would be just a small aspect of the overall change that the community is expected to see over the next few years. The pilot program will give up to $10,000 to 10 businesses, with a requirement that businesses fund at least 25 percent of the project's cost.
“I know that this is something that has been needed for years,” MERCEDES said. “It's time to revitalize our area.”
Alexander said that this particular program was unique because you don't often hear about government investing in private businesses and show a willingness to pay for the bulk of the cost.
“It's very important that business owners really take advantage of this because it's not going to always come around this way,” he said.
Teresa Garcia, a program manager with the cit's Small Business Services, came to the meeting last week to highlight some of the program's finer points, as well as answer any questions that businesses owners might have. One of the main focuses of the project was to make sure that all the façades were up to code.
Local business owners asked if there was any way to make the improvements uniform, or any way to make sure all the businesses that participate are located adjacent to each other to improve the overall aesthetic, however Garcia explained that SBS can't tell a store what to do or to participate, the agency can only guide it towards best practices.
Those in attendance expressed frustration at the improvement process and getting other business owners involved.
“Maybe most of us here don't need the sign, but we're here to try and give support to the next person who could get that sign,” said Nancy Martinez, owner of New York Career Training School. “But if they're not here, how casn we help them?”
Martinez said she's always been there to support community and local businesses, but a lot of others don't do the same.
“A lot of them come to our community to make money, and they don't work with us,” she said.
For example, the businesses directly next door has had the same sign for 40 years, and for her business to look better, that sign needs to be replaced.
“There's a whole big group that's holding us back,” she said.