Claddagh INN Crumbles; Find Out 'Y'
The Claddagh INN - once a busy soup kitchen that served the community during dark times, more recently one of Rockaway's biggest eyesores - began to crumble under the teeth of a backhoe Tuesday as demolition commenced, making way for a YMCA.
Although the INN stopped operating last year as, well, whatever it had become, some say its service to the community ended years ago. The familiar corner property, located at Beach 73 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, deteriorated into a mishmash of common junk: automobiles, furniture, toys, clothing, bicycles. The items were donated to help the poor but were left out to rot instead. To anyone who passed by it looked like a garbage dump, completely out of character with the new homes sprouting around it.
"It's a shame what happened there," said Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14 District Manager, who described the INN's demise as "slow death." But there was a time, nearly 20 years ago, when it was a viable operation that helped countless Rockaway residents. Zandra Myers, who dedicated 10 years of her life to working there, remembers it all.
"In 1987, when that soup kitchen first opened, there was a Crack epidemic and the community was under assault," Myers painfully recalled. Her experience there, she said, was emotionally and physically draining for her. Drugs, not food, was the priority of addicts and "people were not bringing home groceries or feeding their kids," she said.
The INN was a place where people in need could get food and other basic necessities. "We served hot, nutritious meals to anyone that was coming out," said Myers, who began as a coordinator and was executive director by the time she left in 1997. The INN had not-for-profit status, a food handling certificate and maintained standards and procedures. "That was something we took great pride in. So many people worked so hard," she explained. "We were a pipeline from the community that had, to the community that did not have."
"Times have changed and this community is changing," Myers said citing the end of the Crack epidemic, workfare, crime reduction and the Rockaway building boom. Now, a new use promises to serve the community in a way that seems more in line with Rockaway's renaissance.
Included in the plan for the Arverne Urban Renewal Area is a YMCA on the Claddagh INN property, which was taken under eminent domain. Tony Job, who operated the INN during it's worst times, is rumored to have relocated to a spot on Beach Channel Drive, but sources interviewed for this story were not sure of an exact address. Job was not present at one of the rumored locations when a reporter visited this week, and people there said they didn't know him.
The Wave was not able to contact or locate Job for this story.
Paul Custer, a senior vice president and the chief administrative officer for the YMCA of Greater New York, told The Wave that architects are still preparing drafts for the 30,000 square-foot facility. Where a large indoor pool will be the premiere attraction. Plans will go out for public review in about two months. Custer described a facility with "lots of flexible all-purpose space" offering exercise classes, after school programs, teen center and senior programs. One area will feature exercise equipment; outdoors there will be "green space" including an athletic field. There will be on-site parking with additional spaces available on the decommissioned Rockaway Freeway, he said.
Custer said a recent survey of Rockaway residents "suggests the Y would be very successful," but that does not translate to exclusive. "We feel it's really important that a Y represent a real cross section of a community," he said. It's too soon to join, and membership rates have not been set.
The Y is likely to hire an executive director in late 2007 or early 2008, according to Custer. A membership drive and additional staff hiring will take place three to four months prior to opening day. Groundbreaking should happen sometime in April, 2006, and opening is tentatively slated for spring/summer 2008, he said.
"We're eager to get there," said Custer.