By Bill Parry
Nearly three dozen members of Queens Neighborhoods United rallied across the street from the 82nd Street Partnership Monday, protesting the plan to expand the business improvement district from Jackson Heights into Corona.
The group of small business and small property owners, tenants and vendors is angry that their voices aren’t being heard despite a community deal reached last week that makes changes to the BID’s structure to give all stakeholders a place at the decision-making table.”
The board of directors will have 25 members and contain a minimum of eight seats for community members – both residential and commercial tenants.
Tania Mattos, an organizer with Queens Neighborhood United, who delivered 200 ballots voting against the expansion to City Hall two weeks ago, said no one in her group had heard from 82nd Street Partnership Executive Director Leslie Ramos since. So they gathered in front of a store called Fever, which is going out of business at 37-03 82nd St., and banged drums while chanting, “No to the BID.”
Arturo Ignacio Sanchez, the chairman of the Newest New Yorkers Committee at Community Board 3, observed the protest.
“Why wouldn’t she meet with them? These are all young people, second-generation college students,” he said. “These are precisely the people she should be reaching out to in a civic engagement. Instead she takes a more strategic approach and engages who she considers to be community leaders.”
Sanchez added that he has been introduced to Ramos twice, but the expansion plan was never discussed. “She says she’s met with leaders, but she hasn’t spoken to me about it,” he said.
One protester stood out from the others. Carl Belin heard about the rally through social media and said he had to be a part of it, having just moved to East Elmhurst two weeks ago.
“I’ve seen firsthand what gentrification does to whole neighborhoods,” Belin said. “I moved here from Pittsburgh, where they promised jobs when they moved in chain stores and a corporate office of Google. We watched as the rents went sky high to the point where you couldn’t afford to live in the city, you couldn’t even stay in the county. It happened in Pittsburgh, it’s happening across the country.”
When the rally was an hour old, Mattos and six of the protestors crossed over and entered the offices of the 82nd Street Partnership unsure if Ramos would meet with them. She welcomed them and immediately agreed to meet with protesters, but without the media. Sanchez, a columnist for the newspaper QueensLatino, did not attend.
“We don’t have enough space for everyone,” Ramos said. The closed door meeting went well according to both sides.
“I think the objective was met in that she saw that there is still opposition to the BID expansion,” Mattos said. “She spoke with each of them extensively, but they left the meeting feeling the same – not convinced that the expansion should go forward.”
Ramos said the protesters spoke of how their businesses are failing because of a lack of customers.
“I told them the goal of the BID is to bring more customers into the area,” she said. “What they need is advice and business services. The way to attract more clients is through beautification, special events, marketing and access to government services. It’s a model that has worked in other communities.”
Ramos also explained that she had reached out to the leaders of Queens Neighborhood United on several occasions but had never heard back. Since taking over in October, Ramos has met hundreds of stakeholders and the community deal reached last week had brought Make the Road New York back into the process after the advocacy group left there seat on the expansion’s Steering Committee last July.
“I have an open door policy here, I want to hear from them,” Ramos said. “We welcome any and all suggestions on how we can do things better.”
Queens Neighborhood United plans to continue action in an effort to halt the extension of the BID.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr