Calls It Hush Money
Last week, the City announced that is granting to the businesses on Beach 116th Street $500,000 because why? In all honesty, nobody rejects a monetary gift; but, this one reeks of hush money as in ‘that’ll shut them up.’ Of a greater concern is, “what is the long range plan for the two block business district?” Short range, this hush money, when divided amongst the businesses comes out to approximately $20,000 per. That type of money doesn’t pay the rent for half a year let alone allow merchants the funds to replace machinery and infra-structure in their stores hit by Sandy. The money is something but in the big picture it’s nothing.
This half million is targeted at uniform awnings, plantings, benches, lighting, sanitation and security for Beach116th Street. Yup, that’s what the street needed all along to make it hum. Why didn’t locals think about the disaster on a street where there are more vacancies than occupancies and come up with benches and awnings, et al, as the solution? Could it be because it’s not?
A long range plan for 116th must include parking and enticements to lure folks over expensive bridges for an evening of food, entertainment or both. Restaurants with entertainment are a lure; but where are they; and, are they enough? The Fort Theater, always a draw to the peninsula, has but an abbreviated schedule (quite regrettably), as for the players and crew the theater is but an avocation. Curiosity seekers will come to Rockaway to see what remains of the devastation. However, that constitutes but a single round trip. In truth, has anyone, city agency or not, answered the question how can we get outsiders to frequent Rockaway businesses on a steady enough basis for the owners to afford to keep them open?
It is difficult to consider improving business on ‘the street’ without taking the two bridge tolls into account. If ‘the street’ develops into a restaurant row and after hours club destination, the city must consider lowering the tolls between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. Since EZ pass is computerized, lowering the tolls should not present a problem. With tolls lowered and parking secured (the city should buy the land vacated by the fire on RBB below Beach 116th Street to use for parking) the City must devise a plan that begins with knocking down the east side of the beach block on ‘the street’ and building stores elevated to flood map standards. Those businesses displaced by the project can be given preference in either relocating there or locating in one of multiple vacant buildings and/or stores for rent at comparable monthly rents. Next, the City must publicize its plan to turn ‘the street’ into a happening place, seeking restauranteurs with creative bents to occupy.
With parking, enticing restaurants, music and lowered evening tolls in place, the city must decide how it intends on dealing with existing businesses that are hanging on by a thread. Perhaps they can be persuaded to ‘go kitsch’ and carry merchandise that appeals to ‘tourists.’ Premises sharing day/night might be a consideration for those for whom the shoe fits. This sharing concept could cut their fixed costs in two making it feasible for merchants to make a living here. If not, stores that have been here for decades, because of competition or for lack of vision, products or consumers, will sadly be forced to close.
Finally, should a tourist fall ill on ‘the street’, we really do not have the resources to render them assistance: our Urgent Care closes at 8:00 p.m. The Courthouse medical facility may not be open for a few years as the devastation on the inside belies the stately facade. Thus, St. John’s and Brooklyn are our med destinations for the present. Clearly, all ‘the street’ needs is negative medical publicity during the infancy of its renaissance and the entire resurgence project could be wiped out.
Where, then, is the plan, the plan for ‘the street.’ Can we expect any change at all with the infusion of a mere $500,000? It would be terrific if for once, a group like our business owners would tell the City to keep their money until they have a plan, an actual effective plan, for a renaissance of ‘the street.’ A real plan, a salient plan would cost a minimum of $50,000,000. The suits who proposed and signed off on the $500,000 are probably laughing at us now figuring any sum they would offer is better than nothing and it would shut the merchants up. All things considered, the offer is a slap in the face, as good as nothing, merely hush money with no view to the future just more of the past. What a shame!