By Bill Parry
During her State of the District Address in march 2015, City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst) announced a community agreement that created a new way forward for the 82nd Street Partnership’s proposed expansion into Corona. The newly expanded and more diverse board of directors, including representatives of the LGBT community, street vendors and youth as well as commercial and residential tenants, brought Make the Road New York back into the fold as supporters of the Business Improvement District’s expansion.
“The establishment of the Jackson Heights-Corona Partnership is exemplary and a triumph over longstanding challenges Roosevelt Avenue has faced,” Ferreras-Copeland said at the time. “This is a 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.”
The expansion still has not happened, however, and according to Tania Mattos of Queens Neighborhoods United, it never had the community backing it needed to succeed.
“It is official that the Jackson Heights-Corona BID has gained no support and city agencies have just walked away from the project and it is off the table for now,” Mattos said. “Julissa was the BID’s champion, but she moved on to other things like her free tampons in schools campaign and now her focus is on being the next Council speaker. And then we were in Frederick Wiseman’s film on Jackson Heights and that was a pretty big blow to their efforts.”
The 85-year-old grand master of American documentary filmmaking featured members of Queens Neighborhood United in several scenes of his award winning “In Jackson Heights” that premiered in October to a standing room only crowd at PS 69. It ran for several weeks at the Museum of the Moving Image in January and was recently screened on PBS. Wiseman, who said he sympathized with the anti-gentrification movement in western Queens, never interviewed anyone from the 82nd Street Partnership for his film and portrayed the expansion into Corona as an end to mom-and-pop stores and vendors along Roosevelt Avenue.
Earlier this week, Mattos sent a statement through e-mail to a group of nearly a hundred small business owners and vendors.
“We applaud the decision to abandon the plan to expand the JH-Corona BID,” she wrote. “Most of all, we are proud of and commend all community members, especially the small business owners, vendors and workers for coming together to defend our community and what we built. Roosevelt Avenue is not for sale!”
Frank Rafalian, the owner of Franky’s Fashions located at 94-17 Roosevelt Ave., was ecstatic when he read the e-mail from Mattos.
“It feels really good to know they’re not going to go through with the expansion,” he said. “It would have increased our expenses when we already have very high real estate taxes to pay and when you drive out the mom-and-pops, you’re losing the neighborhood’s Latin authenticity and people come from all over the tri-state area for that, believe me. They won’t come here for the big chain stores. We have enough of those in this city. Jackson Heights and Corona will now keep its ethnic flavor.”
Leslie Ramos, the executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, declined to comment as did Ferreras-Copeland’s office. Officials at the Small Business Services, which administers BIDs citywide, could not be reached for comment.
“Honestly, we truly believed that this community didn’t want the expansion to go through,” Mattos said. “So we kept on pushing strategically.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr