2012-02-24 / Columnists

Commentary On Things Present

A Rockaway Culture Mall?
By Peter Stubben

NO! ... nobody’s drilling for oil or fracking for nat-gas over at the MPG site on Beach 108.

Nat Grid and DEC (NY State’s Department of Environmental Conservation) are – finally – finalizing the cleanup.

In October 2004 they entered in agreement to remediate this ‘Class 2 inactive hazardous waste site.‘

So ... what’s next? I’d like to propose Queens’ first Culture Mall. You know, a Cine-plus Theatre, a Legit Theatre, an Art-House, an outdoor Rotunda, a Queens Culture Library – surrounded by boutiques and restaurants. Have I gone batty?

I’d suggest – and here I’m speculating somewhat outlandishly – these would be the wishes of Barbara Eisenstadt and Beverly Baxter – two Rockaway pioneers taken too soon – who worked tirelessly to enrich the lives of all of us on the Peninsula. The MPG site is surrounded by Industry, by Scholarship, by Rockaway’s Bungalows and by Rockaway’s main shopping district. I think the site should be developed as none of these, but all of these.

Some have suggested a parking lot ... a parking lot? ... what, a return to the 1950s mentality of bulldozing bungalows into fallow fields of futility and despair?

Presently no healthy after-school outlet exists for the kids of Beach Channel High, Scholars’ Academy, Waterside School (PS 225) and Peninsula Prep (the ole Stella Maris Academy) ... all surrounding this site.

There is not one movie theatre for anyone on this Peninsula (120,000 people and growing) ... nor, for that matter, for the people of Broad Channel and Howard Beach.

The local artist community – bubbling, creative and nurturing as they are – are secreted off to Quonset huts @ Fort Tilden.

Despite repeated and futile attempts, the Rockaway Summer Concert Series lost its venue.

On Merrick over in Jamaica the borough’s Main Library has rooms full of Queens history, culture and stuff – undisplayed for lack of space.

Is it unreasonable for locals and our mainland neighbors to go to a movie, a play, a musical – then dinner and a walk on the boardwalk.

Is that too much to seek and or expect?

Would not an open stage (Rockaway’s ‘Nat-Grid Rotunda’) with spectator sight lines towards the bay, the setting sun and Manhattan’s sky-line ... would that not be a fabulous venue for the summer Concert Series?

Mine is certainly not a new or provocative notion: the concept dates back some 2,500 years to the Greeks, and incorporated into the Hollywood Bowl, Central Park’s Summer-Stage and, of course, the Jones Beach Theatre.

Kids love to go to the mall ... why must they take the Q53 – after school – to the Queens Mall, or cannot this ‘culture mall’ keep them on the Peninsula and excite their passions for the arts as well as for general entertainment?

Wouldn’t it be grand, too, if the Beach 108 bulkhead across Beach Channel Drive was restored before it falls into the bay – as warned last week by the New York Daily News – and that the bulkhead be transformed into a ferry depot, as Joe Hartigan has long urged?

Rockaway was a culture mecca one hundred years ago ... not just for the rich, but for all ... and does it not make sense to revive that spirit with an abandoned centrally-located property that’s about to be developed by Mayor Bloomberg’s Economic Development Corporation?

Too many questions and too few answers, I know, but here’s hopin’ this meager proposal stirs the creative juices of Rockawayites and developers alike. This site is too valuable to be thrown away.

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