Boro to revitalize commerce, boost tourism: Beep

By James DeWeese

During the hourlong speech at Queens College's Colden Center, Marshall, who was elected in 2001, vowed to expand educational opportunities for borough residents and pledged continued support for balanced economic and residential development in Queens.

In her address, she outlined portions of her “Marshall Plan” that encompassed millions of dollars in allocations for commercial corridor revitalization, the solicitation of private investment in previously fallow areas of College Point and Willets Points, expanded transportation, particularly to the Rockaways, tourism initiatives that include a new visitors' center and a specialized Queens license plate and major park improvements.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also spoke, rehashed many of the themes from his State of the City address two weeks ago – property tax rebates and the creation of a “city of opportunity” – and gave Marshall, a Democrat, high marks for what he called her vision and dedication to the borough.

Marshall, 75, a former teacher, focused heavily on educational issues and the chronic overcrowding in borough schools.

Three new elementary schools in Richmond Hill, Far Rockaway and Flushing with 2,000 new seats opened this academic year, she said. Construction to accommodate 4,000 new student seats is set for completion by September, when a 600-student addition to Queens Vocational High School also will be finished.

Additional facilities to accommodate as many as 19,000 more seats are in the planning phase. And funds have been allocated to develop programs and facilities at the borough's public colleges and universities, including the proposed CUNY satellite in a former Rockaway court house.

“It may take time,” she said, “but we will have a CUNY by the Sea.”

Queens has become increasingly attractive to residential and commercial developers, Marshall told the audience that applauded several cultural and culinary initiatives she said even drew the attention of The New York Times. And borough airports, which provide more than 50,000 jobs, also are operating at pre-Sept. 11 levels, she said.

Marshall said she hoped the city's Olympic bid would spur development of affordable housing at the proposed Olympic Village in Long Island City. She also praised rezoning plans aimed at preserving the character of some neighborhoods by limiting certain types of construction in areas such as Bayside, Corona and Bellerose.

Marshall also took a veiled jab at retail giant Wal-Mart, which has proposed building a store in Rego Park.

“I believe that our consumers should have many shopping options, but national retailers who wish to come into this borough must provide decent wages and benefits and respect the micro-economies of our communities,” Marshall said. “They need to know we are a borough of individual neighborhoods.”

Last month, Marshall and borough legislators launched the first phase of a commercial corridor revitalization that will bring new greenery, signage and lighting to aging stretches in Long Island City, Sunnyside, Jamaica, Ridgewood, Bayside and Corona.

Three new businesses with 500 jobs came to the College Point industrial park in 2004 and the city's Economic Development Corp. requested ideas for private development in Willets Point, an iron triangle of auto shops in the shadow of Shea Stadium.

“It certainly can be put to better use and become an economic generator for the city,” said Marshall, who suggested a convention center.

As the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey prepares for ferry service to Kennedy Airport, Marshall called on planners to include a local stop in the Rockaways, which she said had become even more isolated with service cuts to the A-Line subway train after a devastating fire earlier this week.

Tourism, which has played a key role in Marshall's economic vision for Queens, also figured prominently in her future plans.

“Tens of thousands of visitors come to Queens each year to attend events both large and small,” said Marshall, who pointed to the success of the annual Dragon Boat races, which she indicated generate more money for the city in two weeks than Shea and Yankee stadiums combined.

Marshall said her office is currently in discussions with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to create a “Discover Queens” license plate which would generate additional revenue for the borough. On Tuesday evening, workers also were scheduled to place a decommissioned Red Bird subway car on the East Lawn of Borough Hall, where it will house a new visitors' center.

Full funding also has been secured for a pool and ice rink in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, a vital component for the city's 2012 Olympic bid. Planners had begun work on siting the facilities within the park.

In total, Marshall said, her office had allocated some $19 million for parks improvements, including 14 new athletic fields. Members of the Bayside Raiders shouted “Thank you, Ms. Marshall” from the audience as the borough president announced a new football field in Kissena Park.

Reach reporter by James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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