The “Thriftway” strip mall on Mott Ave has become the symbolic centerpiece of development in Far Rockaway. Last week, the Food Dynasty grocery store had its last day, and Dunkin Donuts announced that it would be closing soon. Councilman Donovan Richards regularly refers to restoring the rundown parking lot and desolate mall as the first step towards his economic vision for the area. It’s the first thing you see when you step out of the Mott Ave subway station, and geographically, it sits in the heart of Far Rockaway. After decades of advocacy, the city has allocated $288 million to revitalize downtown Far Rockaway. Here’s everything you need to know:
1. DEVELOPMENT IN FAR ROCKAWAY HAS FACED CHALLENGES FOR A LONG TIME.
Rita Stark, the infamous Queens landlord and former Thriftway mall owner, notoriously blocked development on all her properties for years — but she was just one part of a larger set of obstacles. In an interview with Politico about Thriftway, City Council Member Donovan Richards said “It’s been desolate for 40 years …It’s reminiscent of the ’70s almost, when New York went through a recession, and this particular part of Queens has never recovered from that.” However, Downtown Far Rockaway used to be a thriving commercial beachfront business district and major shopping destination. The biggest obstacle to the recent push for redevelopment was updating area zoning (which hadn’t changed in 55 years) to allow for mixed retail / residential buildings and new amenities.
2. THAT $288 MILLION ISN’T JUST FOR A NEW MALL.
The Downtown Revitalization Project covers the whole center of Far Rockaway, not just the Thriftway property. You can view all the commitments of the project using an easy online map here. There are 5 pillars to the plan: (1) Housing, (2) Open Space, (3) Community Resources, (4) Transportation & Infrastructure, (5) Economic & Workforce Developmen. The biggest proposed elements are: 670 units of affordable housing (including a 100% affordable development), renovating Bayswater Park, renovating the Downtown Far Rockaway library, rebuilding sidewalks and street infrastructure throughout downtown, new bus shelters, and new support systems for established businesses and minority-owned businesses.
3. IT’S NOT CLEAR YET HOW THIS PROJECT WILL INTERACT WITH GENTRIFICATION IN ROCKAWAY.
The goal of the project is to create more economic opportunity in Far Rockaway, more affordable housing units, more amenities for the people who live here. There are lots of potential benefits to current residents: more jobs, more foot traffic to existing businesses, more storefront real estate for new businesses, beautification of the area, more affordable housing units, and more amenities. However, it could potentially also mean: higher rent in existing housing, not enough access for lower-income residents, more opportunities for newcomers than locals, and ultimately, displacement of current residents. Will there be improved access to transportation? Who will actually own the businesses and move into the new housing units? Who will be working all those new jobs? In summary, how will the developers make sure that the interests of current residents are prioritized?
At the same time, how do we make sure that current business owners and Far Rockaway residents have the tools they need to withstand gentrification from the west side of the peninsula? The Downtown Revitalization project may represent an investment in strengthening the community that is already here — compared to developers that may only be interested in making room for outside buyers that want to move in.
~by GABBY PRESTON