2009-06-12 / Front Page

'Exciting' Fix For Underused Shopping Center

By Howard Schwach

For 20 years, Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska, has been working diligently on getting the all-butabandoned Far Rockaway Shopping Center at the intersection of Mott Avenue and Central Avenue the attention he and other community activists believe that it deserves.

Renovations may soon begin on the Far Rockaway Shopping Center, which has been all but abandoned for the past 20 years. Renovations may soon begin on the Far Rockaway Shopping Center, which has been all but abandoned for the past 20 years. "This was once one of the central locations in the Far Rockaway business district and we had to do something to revitalize the center," Gaska said.

The problem was that the center is owned by Rita Stark, who, for years, steadfastly refused to do anything for the large shopping center, from paving the cracked parking lot to putting in new lighting.

Now, however, Gaska told The Wave this week, "Stark is now in the mood to do something or has seen the wisdom of improving her property."

Does Gaska think that the new plan is for real?

"I've been hearing about fixing up the center for 20 years," he said. "This is as real as it has ever been. The real test is when I come to work in the morning and see that the parking lot has been closed and work has begun."

At a meeting held in the office of Queens Borough President Helen Marshall two weeks ago, Stark said that she has hired Shopco, a large national developer of strip malls and shopping centers, to work on the renovation of the Far Rockaway Center.

Gaska said that there are two different plans for the center - what he calls "Plan A" and "Plan B."

Under Plan A, Gaska says, the parking lot would be closed and repaved and all of the storefronts would be renovated.

Security guards would be put in place to collect fees from those Nassau County drivers who use the lot to park and then take the A Train to Manhattan. The A Train station stands right across Mott Avenue from the parking lot.

"Shopco is looking hard for an anchor store for the revitalized shopping center," Gaska said. "They want a supermarket, a national brand drug store, the things a normal strip mall has."

Plan B, he says, would be more expensive and more intensive.

"The other plan, which probably will not happen in this economy, would be to tear everything down and rebuild, looking to find space for a big-box store such as Target or Kohl's and a chain restaurant such as Applebee's," he said, adding that either of the plans would bring "sorely needed retail jobs to Far Rockaway."

To assist in developing the property and provide for community input, the community board has convened a "Far Rockaway Shopping Area Task Force," headed by board members Al Moorer and Harvey Gordon.

That task force will also find a way to help area store owners fix up their own properties once the new shopping center is in operation.

"We're hoping for the 'Disney Effect,' in Rockaway," Gaska said. "We hope that the new shopping center will attract other business and restaurants and bring people to the entire shopping area."

"This is a very exciting prospect," Gaska concluded. "This is the culmination of 20 years work."

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