2009-12-18 / Columnists

East End Matters...

F.R. Shopping Center Saga Continues; BCHS Closing Unconscionable
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

Longtime members of the Rockaway community, like me, can remember when we had three movie theaters in the Far Rockaway business district - the Strand, the Columbia and the Pix. I remember when my mom took my sister and me to the Strand one day when Jerry Lewis was appearing there. I remember when, during the British music invasion, several groups from Great Britain came to perform at the Pix. OK my mom wouldn't let me go, but my grandmother - who worked at the concession stand - brought home some autographs. Remember Freddy and the Dreamers? Back then we had two music stores in Far Rockaway. My favorite was The Music Place on Beach 20 Street. I was there at least once a week, and I knew the guys who worked there by their first names. We also had Woolworth's, Grant's, Neveloff's stationery store, Bartons candy and so much more. And the linchpin to the area became the Far Rockaway Shopping Center. Rem - ember Waldbaum's, Jamaica Bank and Burt's Clothing? After decades of neglect and deterioration, The Wave has learned from various sources that minor work has begun on the Far Rockaway Shopping Center. According to Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, the developer already redid the parking lot; and better lighting, renovations of stores and bringing in new clients are in the future. George Arzt Communi - cations, the representative for Shopco Advisory Group - the site's developer - confirmed the upcoming renovations. The spokesman for the agency, George Arzt, at first used the past tense when he told The Wave this week that the parking lot was "repaired, sealed and striped." When pressed, Arzt changed his statement to "[they] are repairing the parking lot." Actually, when he asked if I had seen any change, I had to reply, no. If redoing the parking lot means putting in 12 handicapped parking spots - which should have been done a long time ago to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1992 - we are in for another big letdown. Here is the update about the shopping center as of Tuesday of this week, according to Arzt. In addition to the parking lot, lighting will be improved and the external facades of the stores will be renovated. Developers are meeting with current and possible new tenants, and the plan is for the whole shopping center to be leased by sometime in 2010. Phrase two, bringing in a big box store, will take place as soon as the national economy turns around.

There are also rumors from various sources that parking meters may be used in the parking lot once the renovations are complete. While all this sounds great, except maybe the parking meters, there is a hitch. The entire renovation of the shopping center would cost $16 million and the developers want to split the cost 50/50 with the city. Sources spoke to The Wave this week on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are ongoing. If this does become a reality, it would become the biggest boost to the revitalization of Far Rock away in years. If this proves to be just another chapter in the saga of broken promises to revitalize the shopping center, then it's time for stronger measures. Recent Supreme Court deci sions make it easier for the government to take ownership of property in the name of eminent domain. While fair market value would need to be paid, perhaps it would be money wise for the city to put the $8 million, being sought by Shopco for the project, to use for eminent domain. For too long the Far Rock a - way Shopping Center has remained an eyesore and detriment to the revitalization of the area. Rita Stark, the owner of the property, has held it and the community hostage for decades. The renovation of the shopping center would begin a domino effect that would improve the whole downtown Far Rockaway business district.

Maybe it is time for Stark to come see for herself how many people will feel the effects of her revitalizing the shopping center and the potential that made her father invest in the area in the first place.

What is it about the month of December, Rockaway high schools and the Department of Education? On December 6, 2007 the city announced that Far Rockaway High School would be phased out. The building was renamed the Far Rockaway Educa - tional Campus. Almost two years to the date last week, the DOE said the same fate would befall Beach Channel High School. The building will be re - named, get this, the Beach Channel Educational Campus. While BCHS is not on the east end, its closing will affect all students living on the peninsula. The DOE has said a new high school is likely to replace BCHS during the first year of the phase out, but it would only start with the ninth grade. So, students who do not qualify for any of the smaller schools to be put in the building or are in grades 10 through 12 will have to travel out of Rockaway to attend high school. It is unconscion - able to leave the entire peninsula without a regular high school. If the DOE wants to reorganize, let them. But keep BCHS open. There is plenty of time between now and next Septem - ber to hire a new principal and staff his or her administration and whatever else needs to de done. If the DOE can open a new high school during the first year of the phase out, it can do this.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…. Yep, it is almost that time. Merry Christmas to all. And since my next column won't be until January, I want to wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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