A Tale Of Two Rockaway Memorials
Two events that occurred more than three years ago are forever connected in the minds of many Rockaway residents. The first was, of course, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center that left upwards of 70 local residents dead. The second event came two months plus one day later with the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into the Belle Harbor intersection of Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue. Just as the two events are tied in our memories, they are now tied by geography as well. The memorial to those who died in the World Trade Center will soon be at one end of Beach 116 Street while the memorial to those who died in AA 587 will be at the other end of the shopping street. There is another tie between the two memorials if not between the two events themselves. The city has been divisive in the development of both memorials, witness the fact that, nearly four years later, neither has yet come to fruition. A memorial to those who died in the Trade Center was started almost immediately after the act. The Chamber of Commerce developed a new, tax-free organization called The Rockaway Partnership to shepherd the development of the memorial along with the community board. From the beginning, they were told that the city would not allow a “memorial,” but would allow a tribute. They were told to “fly under the city’s radar” if they wanted to get it done. They took that advice. A committee was formed to come up with a design. Many locals submitted designs. The community was allowed to view all of the submissions and to vote. A design submitted by local artist Patrick Clark was chosen. Whether you liked the design or not, it was the community’s choice. Then things went bad. Somebody in the city’s Arts Commission found out about Tribute Park from a New York Times article and took umbrage to the fact that the community would dare do a project without the commission’s input and approval. Things were put on hold for more than a year while locals dickered with the city to be allowed to build the park. Lots of changes were demanded and those changes were made. Now, finally, the redesigned park is back on track thanks largely to Broad Channel resident Dan Mundy, who took on the job of overseeing the project. It should be ready, minus the plantings, for this September 11. The battle over the memorial for those who died in AA 587 is even more bizarre. The city, sure in its wisdom that the Belle Harbor community did not want a crash-site memorial, took all the decision-making power away from the locals, giving it instead to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation. A site at the turn-around at the beach end of Beach 116 Street was chosen rather than more rational sites away from the heavily-traveled shopping street. The process for choosing a memorial design and the final design itself are being kept so secret that reporters were denied access to a showing for the finalists at the site two weeks ago. What is Bloomberg trying to hide from Rockaway? Your guess is as good as ours. All we know is that, by November 12, 2006, there will be a memorial on that site, one intentionally developed in secrecy. Is that anyway to run the people’s city? We think not, but that is what Mayor Mike Bloomberg is all about.