By Bill Parry
The Maspeth community fought City Hall and apparently won after the owner of the Holiday Inn Express claims he pulled out of a deal with the city and service provider Acacia Network to convert the facility into a homeless shelter Thursday evening.
Harshad Patel called civic leader Bob Holden saying he no longer wanted to go against the wishes of the community and asked that they stop their nightly protests at the 55th Road location.
“That’s when he told me he was pulling out and that he didn’t want the neighborhood to hate him anymore, but until we have confirmation from the city or Acacia we won’t believe it,” Juniper Park Civic Association President Bob Holden said Friday morning. “If you look at his past I’m not sure we can trust anything he says.”
The city had no official statement on the matter Friday, but a source said negotiations were still happening. Patel did not return repeated phone calls for comment.
Holden will be back protesting at the Holiday Inn Express Friday evening, something he and more than 200 Maspeth residents have done each weeknight for the last three weeks. On Aug. 27, nearly 2,000 protesters marched 5 miles in and around the neighborhood in 95-degree heat.
“We were planning on taking the protest to his house Saturday, but before we rented the buses we wanted to make sure we had the right location, so we sent flowers to the address on Wednesday,” Holden recalled with a laugh. “I guess you can call it flower power because Thursday he called and thanked me for the flowers. I told him if he didn’t want to meet with us in Maspeth, we’d meet him in Floral Park and that’s when he told me he was pulling the plug. I’m not sure if it was us or Avella’s letter, but something spooked him.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was the only elected official to join the Aug. 27 march. This week Avella called for a federal probe into Patel in a letter to Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
“I recently learned that five years ago, Mr. Patel openly admitted to paying a former state elected official more than $20,000 to get that official to effect a zoning change in his favor,” Avella wrote. “I ask that you investigate this situation to ensure there is no illegal activity taking place with respect to the Holiday Inn Express, or any other hotels owned by Mr. Patel.”
The Avella letter galvanized Holden.
“All I know is we’re going to be out there tonight and every night until we know for sure,” Holden said.
Manuel Caruana, a member of the Juniper Park Civic Association board of directors, agreed.
“I’ll never say it’s a done deal, but it looks like Maspeth has once again countered government officials who tried to destroy this community,” he said. “We’ve had more than 200 protesters out there every for the last three weeks proving this is a neighborhood that sticks together. I think it was disgraceful that the community was put in this position to begin with.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr