By James DeWeese
The arch has loomed over the entrance to Sunnyside's 46th Street commercial strip for more than two decades, and even those who profess to love the Coney Island-style mix of tasteful and tacky concede that it's been in need of some TLC for almost as long.Rust spots the structure's white paint, pigeon droppings coat horizontal surfaces and graffiti obscures the community bulletin board that appears not to have been updated since the economic development organization installed the arch more than a decade ago.”It originally began as part of a commercial revitalization program,” said Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall, “but what was forgotten was that there was no provision to maintain it.”That history of neglect, however, is now poised to become as much a thing of the past as the communal memory of just exactly who was supposed to foot the electricity bill that came with the thousands of lightbulbs that stud the arch.Marshall and City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) announced last week that they had secured $450,000 in city funds to rehabilitate the arch. The renovations to the landmark will anchor a series of measures aimed at sprucing up the area's major commerical corridors along 46th Street, Greenpoint Avenue and Queens Boulevard.The funds, a portion of which were taken from the borough president's commerical corridor program, will go toward new plantings, the installation of antique street lamps and other “streetscape” amenities, Gioia said.”Over the past two decades, the Sunnyside arch has completely fallen apart and sits in a state of absolute disrepair,” Gioia said. “It's been an eyesore for far too long. Now, we're going to fix it.”The Sunnyside arch was erected in the early '80s by Gateway Community Services, a city-funded economic development agency that also ran a number of neighborhood projects, including afterschool programs. The agency later went belly up and the arch was left to its own devices. “The borough president feels that the arch is a symbol of the entire community,” Andrews said. “It is a centerpiece of the community.” And so it should come as no surprise that this is not the first time community leaders have had arch revitalization in their crosshairs. In the 1990s, Andrews said, the borough president's office committed $70,000 to the effort, which eventually became mired in bureaucratic controversy over whether the arch's repair classified as a capital or expense budget item.More recently, Luke Adams of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce decided to take matters into his own hands. Just before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Adams launched a fund-raising initiative which eventually fizzled.Now things appear to be headed in the right direction, said Lily Gavin, owner of Dazie's restaurant on Queens Boulevard and co-chair of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.”It's wonderful,” Gavin said. “It's exciting for use because we've been involved.”The project must still gain approval from the local Community Board and Department of City Planning, but once it does, Gavin said she expected it to move forward quickly. With luck, she said, the revitalization will also breathe new energy into the chamber's plan to launch a business improvement district for Sunnyside's commercial corridors.”It think it shows that the community is revitalized,” Gavin said of the arch.Business owners in the area covered by the BID would pay a small assessment that would be used to publicize the area, pay for additional trash collections – and pick up the tab for maintenance of the revamped arch, Gavin said.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.