By Bill Parry
Opposition to the proposed expansion of the 82nd Street Partnership from Jackson Heights into Corona is gaining strength with the rise of the Roosevelt Avenue Community Alliance.
A grassroots coalition of small business owners and vendors, mostly Hispanic, formed RACA last fall in opposition to City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’ (D-East Elmhurst) plan to extend the business improvement district from 81st Street to 114th Street along Roosevelt Avenue.
It would create one of the city’s largest BIDs, incorporating retail hubs including Junction Boulevard, Corona Plaza and National Street.
A recent film screening of a documentary warning of the dangers of gentrification called “The Vanishing City” drew more than 80 people on a Saturday afternoon.
“The movie screening was a big success because people are seeking the truth about the long-term effects of the BID,” organizer Tania Mattos said. “As an immigrant activist and Jackson Heights resident of 26 years, I am strongly opposed to the BID because it will raise the rents. Our communities deserve clean, safe streets but not at the price of being kicked out of our homes.”
The 30-year-old Bolivian native has been involved in immigration reform, the Dream Act and organizing Louisiana restaurant workers, but is now immersed in RACA, she says, “because business owners are the backbone of the movement but they are so busy they depend on us to represent them.”
The owner of Franky Fashions, at 94-17 Roosevelt Ave., Frank Rafalian, said, “The BID is tricky. When they have meetings, they do it on days and hours that they know we can’t attend because we’re running our shops.”
He added that the additional expense of membership fees could cripple his enterprise.
“I’m told it could cost $2,000 a year. My real estate tax has gone up $12,000 in the last few years. Doesn’t this pay for sanitation and graffiti removal? At the end of the day they’re just paving the way for corporate chains to come in and change the Hispanic small business identity of Jackson Heights and Corona,” Rafalian said.
Ferreras defended her vision for the business stretch.
“The proposal for the Jackson Heights-Corona Business Improvement District was formed to combat many of the existing problems my constituents experience on a daily basis, such as crime, litter, poor lighting and safety along Roosevelt Avenue,” she said. “While I have always welcomed all members of our community to share their input on this proposal, it has come to our attention that there are several vocal opponents who continue to have misconceptions.”
Seth Taylor, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, claims the lines of communication have included RACA in the process.
“We’ve invited them to meet with us on several occasions. We’re always willing to meet with them and with anyone who has questions about the proposed expansion,” he said.
Mattos believes Taylor is a large part of the problem.
“Seth is a very difficult person to talk to. His e-mails are aggressive in our opinion and we don’t feel he’s come into this neighborhood respecting us,” she said.
That notion is vehemently denied by John Rapp, a landlord who hired Taylor when he was president of the 82nd Street Partnership.
“I looked for that when we hired him. I watched carefully how he interacted with Hispanic people to see if he was considered a gringo and I saw nothing like that at all,” Rapp said. “He’s more of a target because he does more than any manager we’ve had. RACA doesn’t want improvement because it will drive out the ones that can’t compete, but that’s the nature of capitalism.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry at email@example.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.