82nd Street Partnership finds new way forward

By Bill Parry

During her State of the District Address last month, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) announced that the plan to expand the 82nd Street Partnership into Corona was more likely because of a community agreement with the Business Improvement District. The details of that agreement were made public Tuesday in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding between Ferreras, the 82nd Street Partnership and the expansion steering committee.

The agreement clarifies the governing structure of the proposed BID and makes unprecedented changes to give all stakeholders a real seat at the decision-making table. The MOU, which will be passed into law by Ferreras, creates an expanded and more diverse board of directors.

“The establishment of the Jackson Heights-Corona Partnership is exemplary and a triumph over longstanding challenges Roosevelt Avenue has faced,” Ferreras said. “This is the solution our immigrant small businesses have wanted. Now we can stand united, take the reins of our future and thrive like we have always deserved.”

To ensure the partnership operations reflect the needs of its diverse range of constituents, the board of directors will have 25 members and contain a minimum of eight seats for community members – both residential and commercial tenants. The MOU emphasizes the organization’s commitment to include on its board representatives of the LGBT community, street vendors and youth as well as commercial tenants and residential tenants.

Large decisions affecting the direction and vision of the expanded BID will require 18 of 25 board members’ support in order to be approved, ensuring inclusion of residential and commercial tenant members of the board. This will guarantee more open debate and that proposals and concerns from across the spectrum will be considered.

“This agreement reflects the principles and goals that should guide any community development initiative,” 82nd Street Partnership Executive Director Leslie Ramos said. “We are taking a proven program and modifying it to address the needs, culture and customs of the community to ensure that all our residents and small businesses benefit from equitable economic growth.”

When Ramos took over the 82nd Street Partnership last fall, following former Executive Director Seth Taylor’s abrupt departure, she set about reopening the lines of communication with many of the small businesses and vendors that feared that they would be displaced by rising commercial rents.

“I spent a lot of time addressing fears based on misinformation on the street,” Ramos said. “I realized that we all have the same vision for economic prosperity and a strong business corridor. We all want a nice neighborhood and more shoppers in the community, but everyone wants to have their voice heard.”

The reaction to the new structure was significant. Make the Road New York, a local civic and immigrant that withdrew its support from the expansion effort in July, is now reconsidering.

“After 28 years living in Jackson Heights and 10 years running a business in the neighborhood, I know that what makes out neighborhood strong is our diversity and inclusion,” Fausto Rodriguez, manager of Woodside Medical at 90-01 Roosevelt Ave. and a member of Make the Road New York, said. “Our many small businesses and street vendors are what make Roosevelt Avenue the vibrant hub of our community that it is today. With this new MOU and critical changes to the structure of the Jackson Heights-Corona Partnership, we can be sure that the BID will reflect the needs of all our community members and work to support our existing immigrant entrepreneurs that make Roosevelt Avenue great.”

Not everyone is convinced.
Just last week, Tania Mattos and her group, Queens Neighborhood United, delivered more than 200 ballots voting against the expansion to City Hall.

“We are very upset and disappointed with Make the Road New York,” Mattos said. “We don’t think they have the support of the community. It’s unfortunate and sad and many voices are still not being heard.”

Ramos is in no rush to force the expansion’s next move.

“My priority is to make time and answer everyone’s questions and have more outreach with vendors,” she said. “It’s a whole new approach that I don’t think has been tried in other BIDs before. I think the community will see that with more representation there is more transparency.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.