The Future Broker
The City is trying to put in place plans that will shape New York in 2030. Wisely, as a result of Super Storm Sandy, planners are considering 2050 as well. As far as Rockaway goes, decisions made now will determine if future generations are still griping about Moses and Lindsay and how Bloomberg had his chance but blew it. Imagine instead if The Mayor makes us forget Moses and Lindsay. Now that’d be a legacy.
Greatness starts with the boardwalk. We think an international design competition would spur our imaginations and reveal possibilities. The City hasn’t said no. They worry that there may not be enough time. We maintain a competition could be held concurrently with the planning they’re doing now. Announce it at the end of February – wrap it up by the end of April.
A great boardwalk is the spine of Rockaway and could positively blur the east / west divide. There are two Rockaways now; a boardwalk could benefit all.
Furthermore, whether there is a competition or not, we hope the City realizes Beach 116th street has a chance to be transformed as well. That long running plague facing the ocean, the Park Inn, should be shuttered. The string of stores connected to it sits broken and bent like a rusted opened can. The movie theater has been vacant and crumbling for more than a decade. The Rockaway Beach hotel is mercifully vacant after a stint as a halfway house for felons. The former Lawrence Hotel is empty, too.
The city should recognize this as an opportunity for economic development. Whether by eminent domain or fair market value purchases the city should seize this opportunity. Make the revitalization of 116th part of the boardwalk redesign. Allow the boardwalk to flow into a beautified square of shops and restaurants. (The west side of the street already has some nice shops that would fit nicely with a redesign).
None of what we’re asking is pie in the sky. Consider the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the East River esplanade; the High Line. These big projects, all of which faced vocal opposition, got done.
We were asked what attractions or industries would work in Rockaway and help justify a great boardwalk. We think such ideas could come out of a design competition but for starters we would say look at Myrtle Beach’s Broadway at the Beach, a mix of shops, theaters and restaurants that draws 14 million visitors a year – and its location is not as good as Rockaway because it’s actually a mile inland from the ocean. Maybe call it Off Broadway At Rockaway Beach? Such a development would be perfect for the mid-peninsula boardwalk, Or, perhaps an indoor waterpark-hotel combination like Kalahari which works in Wisconsin of all places.
With our beaches and proximity to JFK, tourism is the natural industry that should be cultivated but it could be complemented by an artist or start-up enclave where creative types could flourish. (The hipsters would have reason to stay beyond Labor Day). Perhaps the “CUNY By The Sea” idea could be revived at which a college offering programs on sustainability and environmental science could be established.
A little bit of “build it and they will come” optimism is called for. (Few people were going to Aqueduct --- until the Racino came to town. Now the place is packed). So we ask, if not now, when?
One last thing about being close to JFK. A ferry from the airport that would stop in Rockaway on its way to downtown Manhattan would be another way for visitors to get here (and provide a better commute for residents).
Our suggestions are not farfetched. We make them with the thought that economic benefits could bloom in numerous directions. We’re asking for an investment, something great that will eventually add to the City’s tax coffers.
The possibilities are wonderful. The City planners tell us they’re listening. They tell us they want to hear ideas and get community input. We so want to believe that because it will be tragic if the ghosts of Robert Moses and John Lindsay still haunt future Rockaway generations.