The MTA’s new request for proposal (RFP) expects the new master lessee of the property to bear the costs of improving buildings and structural work on the bridge, which will force 14 businesses to close their doors.
Brian Charney has been the owner of Baker’s Dozen Bagels for 26 years. It is a local staple, with lines out the door before coronavirus, but now it is being threatened with closure.
“It’s been nothing but pure neglect from the MTA and the small businesses suffer,” Charney said. “They want to empty us out and put a skyscraper here.”
Charney, who has continued paying his employees with no rent relief, said that this proposal will completely put him out of business.
“I had a good business, but when you triple my rent, what can I do?” he said. “Now with COVID, you might as well put a knife in our heart.”
In response to the lack of community input on this issue, state representatives sent a letter to the MTA outlining their concerns.
It was signed by state senators Leroy Comrie and Joseph Addabo, assemblymen Daniel Rosenthal and Andrew Hevesi and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz.
The letter highlighted the MTA’s troubled history of negligence toward the bridge and said the previous master lessee of the site allowed the buildings to fall into disrepair.
“As a result, several small businesses were forced to close and the remaining stores remain in precarious financial standing, through no fault of their own,” the letter read. “Once again, the MTA was made aware of these issues and chose not to act.”
The representatives are asking for the MTA to retract its RFP and create a new one that would preserve the historic nature of the bridge, while also protecting the small business owners.
The Kew Gardens Civic Association partnered with the Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) to offer a new proposal to the MTA that will give businesses a chance to “thrive at affordable rents.”
“A vital commercial strip would be an asset to the neighborhood, providing needed jobs, and sales tax revenue to the State of New York,” the groups argued.
Adam Whiteman, vice president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, said that this new proposal will help keep the stores in business.
“This not only keeps the store owners there, but puts them on the board organization,” Whiteman said. “Our elected officials have been very supportive of this.”
He added that the MTA has neglected the bridge for years, and it would be “horrible” to close all these businesses in the middle of a pandemic.
“It’s typical with how the MTA has dealt with the community,” Whiteman said.
An MTA spokesperson said the agency would continue to work with the community on the project.
“The MTA has been in contact with community leaders as we seek a master tenant with the experience to achieve optimal retail occupancies and ensure preservation of the current footprint and style of the existing buildings,” the spokesperson said.