2007-08-03 / Community

New Plans For Far Rockaway Shopping Center

By Miriam Rosenberg

North Fork Bank is one of the few active businesses left in the mall. North Fork Bank is one of the few active businesses left in the mall. More than fifteen months after the owner of the Far Rockaway Shopping Center and a developer announced plans to revitalize the property, The Wave has learned that a new plan for the site is scheduled to come before elected officials and Community Board 14 shortly. Community activists have long said that revitalizing the long dormant commercial center is vital to the revitalization of the community itself.

Numerous proposals have been brought forward over the past 20 years, but each has been scuttled by the property's owner, Rita Stark.

Recently, however, Stark has relented and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall's office has been working with the Shopco Advisory Group (the proposed developer for the project) and The New York City Economic Development Corporation to come up with a revitalization plan. Marshall met with Shopco representatives at Borough Hall on July 12.

"The proposed project will [now] be all commercial development with a parking component," said Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall, in an e-mail. "The next step is for the developer to meet with elected officials and apprise them of the updated plans."

On one side of the shopping center, except for Thriftway Drugs and the Snow White Cleaners, all storefronts are gated or boarded up, with the parking lot mostly occupied by those who use the nearby subway. On one side of the shopping center, except for Thriftway Drugs and the Snow White Cleaners, all storefronts are gated or boarded up, with the parking lot mostly occupied by those who use the nearby subway. Andrews says that the development under the new plan would be "as of right," which means that the developer has the right to complete the project without community or New York City oversight.

Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14's district manager, said he expects a meeting to address the new plan will be set up for sometime during August.

"[Apparently] they have come up with a plan to rebuild the shopping center," said Gaska. "Maybe a supermarket or big box store [as an anchor] with [smaller] stores."

This plan is the second submitted by Shopco. The first plan, which was presented earlier this year, was heavily residential, which was not what either the local community or the community board members wanted for the vital site.

"They came back with a plan that was mostly residential," said Gaska, during an interview in May. "They turned the project into a housing project. We asked them to go back to the drawing board. We want more stores, parking, improvements to streets and sidewalks. We want more holistic improvements. Cleaner, more attractive."

Shopco representative Joseph Speranza would not comment for this story except to say, "When the time is right I would be happy to [comment]. It just would be the wrong thing to do [now]."

And, while the community was negotiating with the developer, the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) had a plan of its own.

In April, the EDC presented a new plan to the Borough President.

"The EDC came in and gave the Borough President a presentation of plans for the site, which included parking and retail," said Andrews in a May e-mail. "The Borough President did not have any major concerns about the plan, other than making certain that parking was adequate."

In its April 28, 2006 issue, The Wave reported that owner Rita Stark had agreed to have Shopco Advisory Group improve the eyesore that many feel is the key to the redevelopment of the Far Rockaway shopping district. The move came after intense pressure from local politicians, including the threat to use the state's power of eminent domain to wrest away her land.

The 340,000-square-foot shopping center fell into decline after Stark's father, Fred Stark - who developed the site more than 40 years ago - died in 1988. The shopping center was the source of a fight between Rita Stark and her brother over their father's assets. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, but the shopping center's slide continued.

The shopping center was once the home to Waldbaum's, Martin's Paints, a furniture store, an eye doctor, a florist, a clothing store and several other businesses. It now has four active businesses - Thriftway Drugs, Associated Supermarket, North Fork Bank and the Snow White Cleaners.

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My family moved to Far Rockaway in 1959 before this shopping center was built. We remember it during it's hey day. One of the businesses not mentioned was a sit-down restaurant.

As mentioned, this shopping center has become a litter and glass-strewn eyesore full of boarded up buildings. I am anxiously awaiting the new improved center.


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