By Bill Parry
When 85-year-old Frederick Wiseman spent eight weeks filming his highly acclaimed, “In Jackson Heights,” the grand master of American documentary filmmaking would shoot 12 hours a day “exploring one of the most diverse communities on the planet,” he said.- There was one thing Wiseman would not do while filming more than 140 hours of content: Walk Roosevelt Avenue after the sun went down.
“Too dangerous,” he said.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) is keenly aware of the avenue’s reputation and Monday he presented a multi-faceted approach to restore order between 74th Street and 114th Street. He called Roosevelt Avenue by day an attractive place, but when night falls “the corridor metamorphoses into a noisy and salacious place,” which is undesirable for area residents, according to Peralta.
“Criminal activity is all too common along Roosevelt Avenue,” Peralta said. “Prostitution, drugs, the sale of fake identification documents, and unscrupulous agents providing false hope of employment to immigrants, as well as apartment rental scams. All these bad actors have hindered development in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst. So, today I am saying: enough is enough.”
Peralta and community leaders called on the city Department of Consumer Affairs to stop granting on-premises liquor licenses for new nightclubs along Roosevelt Avenue and he wants the DCA to increase enforcement of the cabaret license laws. He introduced legislation authorizing the DCA to impose fines of up to $10,000 for violations of cabaret licensing rules, up from $1,000 currently. Peralta noted that there are only six establishments that hold a valid cabaret license between 74th and 114th streets.
“Dancing occurs in many more places than those six, as many nightclubs operate without the proper cabaret license,” he said.
Peralta also called on the NYPD to beef up enforcement of the existing cabaret laws, specifically the $2-per-dance bars that line the corridor. “Clearly, enforcement of these rules is lacking, and this is why I’m urging the New York Police Department to enforce laws overseen by the Department of Consumer Affairs,” he said.
The senator also proposed the formation of a Commission on Roosevelt Avenue as a key component in tackling criminal activity along the corridor. The commission would release a report within a year of its creation, establishing a road map to turn around the thoroughfare and revive the economic engine of the surrounding communities.
“Unfortunately, Roosevelt Avenue has become the new ‘old Times Square,’” Peralta said. “We must ensure this thoroughfare is safer for families, for shoppers and for visitors.”
The commission would include the commanders of the 110th and 115th Precincts, representatives of Community Boards 3 and 4 and officials from the FDNY, the Department of Sanitation, the Department of Health and the New York State Liquor Authority.
“Roosevelt Avenue is in a state of disarray even though we have some of the city’s best attractions here, including Citi Field, the U.S. Tennis Center, and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and most of the bars and businesses are great neighbors and responsible for the economic success of the avenue,” Peralta said. “Today, the US Open begins just a few miles from where we are, so let’s make every possible effort to make sure some of the profits of this popular event stay in our community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr