Business Improvement Program Expanded into Astoria

By Alicia Venter


Photo: QDA’s Office

A new program designed to enhance safety around shops, the Astoria Merchants Business Improvement Program, was launched on Tuesday by the Queens District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD.

The program focuses on the small group of individuals who are responsible for the majority of harm done to local businesses, with behavior including shoplifting, harassing and threatening customers and store staff.

Businesses who are part of the program can contact the local precinct when an individual is disrupting business, and the responding officers can issue a trespass notice and warn said individual that if they return to the business, they could be arrested.

Since it launched in Jamaica two years ago, 23 notices have been issued; three arrests have been made, according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

There is also a business improvement program in Flushing.

“We need to address the few responsible for the vast majority of the shoplifting and vandalism and for it to stop,” said Melinda Katz, Queens District Attorney, in a statement. “Our goal is to protect local businesses, many of them mom-and-pop shops, and the customers and communities depending on them. We should never lose sight of the fact that communities thrive when local businesses thrive.”

Merchants can enroll in the program through the 114th Precinct.

In Jamaica, there are 25 stores part of the program.

“This a great tool for our small businesses who are many times alone in their establishment and fearful of individuals who habitually enter with the sole purpose of causing harm or chaos,” Marie Torniali, Executive Director of the Steinway Astoria Partnership, said in a statement. “This is not about instant arrest; it is a warning to those individuals not to return. Our merchants will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and continue running their business and assist customers without apprehension.”

More than a Mile of Water Mains Installed in Maspeth

By Alicia Venter


New water mains have been installed in Maspeth, replacing pipes that are over 100 years old. Totaling more than a mile and installed between 61st St. and Hamilton Pl. along Borden Ave. — a primarily residential area adjacent to the Long Island Expressway — the new pipes were a $2.25 million capital project and were completed more than a year ahead of schedule.

Alongside the 5,960 feet of water mains, which were originally set to cost $4.06 million, 19 fire hydrants were replaced and 1,380 square feet of broken sidewalks were replaced. The project was managed by DCC’s in-house construction management team.

“So many Americans have learned hard lessons about the critical importance of water infrastructure,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris in a press release. “I am glad this urgently needed water pipe improvement in Maspeth was done to ensure Queens neighbors have high quality, safe drinking water.”

Construction began in July 2022, and was completed this month, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DCC) announced on May 8. It was initially slated to be completed in July 2024.

“Getting high-quality water to every tap across the five boroughs requires regular investments in our infrastructure and by replacing the water mains that had served this neighborhood for a century, we significantly reduce the risk of leaks and breaks,” said DEP Commissioner Rohit T. Aggarwala in a press release.

Photo: DCC and DEP

Donovan Richards Touts What’s “Being Built in Queens” in 2023 State of the Borough

By Alicia Venter


Queens Borough President Donovan Richards promoted Queens’ innovation, infrastructure and his office’s strategic funding through the past year in his “State of the Borough Address” on Friday, April 28.

Held at Claire Schulman Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Richards focused his speech on the improvements the borough has seen over the past year while providing a glimpse into plans his office has for the future, especially in the Rockaways and Jamaica.

“Years from now, when our kids and grandkids look back on this period of rebirth for New York City, they will know exactly where its renaissance began,” said Richards. “Because that future they will enjoy is being built before our eyes. The city they will inherit is one where equity rules the day, where diversity is embraced, where upward mobility isn’t contingent on your ZIP code. That, my friends, is what’s being built in Queens.”

Investing in Rockaway

Prior to borough president, Richards was a council member representing the Rockaways and parts of southeast Queens.

Self-describing himself as a “biased Rockaway boy,” Richards laid out a long-term plan for growth in the neighborhood, citing systemic issues that he has already addressed there. Since he became borough president, affordable housing developments at Arverne East, Edgemere Commons and Rockaway Village have been built, with residents able to move into the latter already.

In total, 5,000 affordable and supportive housing units have been opened in the three locations, including a number of units set aside for homeless and formerly homeless families.

Arverne East also features a 35-acre beachside nature preserve and 180,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Using geothermal energy, Arverne East will be the first net-zero community in the city.

That’s what’s being built in Queens,” said Richards. “Communities on the front lines of clean energy, community empowerment and the correction of systemic injustice.”

Health and Hospitals recently opened a $30 million clinic in the Rockaways, a neighborhood that Richards shared has only one hotel for 125,000 people.

“It’s no accident that Far Rockaway families experience heart disease, diabetes and other conditions and higher rates than elsewhere in Queens,” he stated. “That is what systemic disinvestment looks like.”

Richards also called upon the MTA to expand the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) CityTicket — a program that makes the LIRR $5 in off peak hours compared to $12.50 —  to Rockaway as well as bring the Fair Fares program to the LIRR. Across Queens, CityTicket has been expanded. Richards claimed that Far Rockaway not having the same benefits “is what systemic racism looks like.”

The Rockaways will also boast “the crown jewel of the Queens Library system,” said Richards — a $33 million new Far Rockaway branch.

“The Rockaways serve as a blueprint for the rest of the city to follow when we talk about community development,” said Richards. “It’s a blueprint we’re utilizing across Queens.”

Changing Jamaica

Richards launched the Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council with council member Natasha Williams last spring, and called upon the Department of Transportation (DOT) to launch a Jamaica Neighborhood Planning Study to take a “holistic, community-led look at how to make Jamaica the premiere live, work and play neighborhood in the city.”

This is personal to Richards, as a Jamaica native, he shared, stating that giving back to the community is the one thing he wants to accomplish while in office.

“Jamaica is already a key business district and a critical transit hub, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of this community’s potential,” he said, citing a need for affordable housing, infrastructure investments, school seats and open space.

To date, the DOT has committed to investing $55 million to Jamaica street improvement projects, shared Richards.

Improving the Airports

Richards launched the Downtown Jamaica Improvement Council with council member Natasha Williams last spring, and called upon the Department of Transportation (DOT) to launch a Jamaica Neighborhood Planning Study to take a “holistic, community-led look at how to make Jamaica the premiere live, work and play neighborhood in the city.”

This is personal to Richards, as a Jamaica native, he shared, stating that giving back to the community is the one thing he wants to accomplish while in office.

“Jamaica is already a key business district and a critical transit hub, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of this community’s potential,” he said, citing a need for affordable housing, infrastructure investments, school seats and open space.

To date, the DOT has committed to investing $55 million to Jamaica street improvement projects, shared Richards.

Reimagining Creedmoor

The future of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center campus was raised by Richards in his address, noting the series of community workshops since February to begin the process of redeveloping the campus.

While it’s his office that will have final say, Richards is inviting the community to provide their input on what the 50 acre campus in Queens Village should be transformed into. It is currently being used as a  small inpatient, outpatient and residential service provider for mentally ill patients. Affordable housing is a leading option for the facility.

“We are making our own blueprint for what community development should look like moving forward,” he said. “At the end of the day, Creedmoor represents a transformative opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the lives of Eastern Queens residents.”

City Sued For Open Streets Program, Plaintiffs Claim Discrimination Against Elderly & Disabled

By Alicia Venter


A collection of New Yorkers filed a lawsuit against the city on Monday, expressing concerns that it discriminates against those protected with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the elderly.

The 12 plaintiffs in Charles v. City of New York share that they are disabled New York City residents, and argue that the Open Streets Program, managed by the DOT and third-party partners, discriminates against seniors and people with disabilities.

“Only the City of New York could come up with a program that promises to eventually choke off 100 miles of public roadways (representing 1.6% of the City’s total street mileage) and 20 miles of public bus lanes, and which robs tens of thousands of disabled City residents of their independence by turning them into shut-ins, and assign it such an Orwellian “Newspeak” name as it has done here: the “Open Streets Program,” the lawsuit begins.

Many of the plaintiffs suffer from disabilities that impair mobility, strength and mobility,  the lawsuit states, and they are reliant on cars for errands, medical appointments and “to generally live their lives independently and with dignity.”

The lawsuit claims that the Open Street Program runs afoul of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, citing Title II of the ADA which provides that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”

In response, the DOT issued the following statement: “Open Streets enhances safety, accessibility, and equity for a large number of New Yorkers using the roads, including seniors and people with disabilities. The City will review the case.”

Matthew Berman, a civil rights class-action attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case and a partner in the law firm of Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP, shared how the city has not considered the disabled or the elderly in any of their planning. Studies need to be conducted to see if there is a viable solution to have open streets — a term he finds ironic — while not inhibiting the basic needs of some citizens.

“[The city] has closed these streets without giving any thought whatsoever to the negative impact that it has on the disabled,” he said in a phone interview. “What’s happening here is that the disabled who live in our communities are being turned into shut-ins because they are relying on automobile transit to live their daily lives.”

A main concern that Berman describes is that of getting a ride to a doctor’s appointment — an able-bodied person would not think anything of walking two blocks to take a car service, such as Access-A-Ride, Uber or Lyft. However, that is not always an option for the disabled or elderly.

“If you are a disabled person, you can’t walk. You can’t get there. They have to come to your doorstep where you are stuck and stranded where you are,” Berman stated. He also expressed issues with the inability for emergency services, including an ambulance, to have access to these streets.

The city’s “Open Streets 2021 Application” states that, to prevent such issues, there must be a 15 foot emergency lane at all times. If this is not possible, the Open Streets applicant must work with the DOT and FDNY to ensure emergency access at all times.

The 34th Avenue Coalition, which is named as a defendant, submitted their proposal to the city with a graphic representation of how the open street would maintain a 15 foot emergency lane. The lawsuit counters this with an image of the supposed emergency lane inhibited due to immovable concrete blocks and planters.

The Open Streets Program, which the lawsuit repeatedly refers to as the “Closed Streets Program,” was a temporary program during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide safe outdoor spaces for people to gather. It was made permanent by the City Council in 2021.

While the lawsuit works to highlight inequities in Open Streets, there are notable social, economic and environmental benefits.

According to an October 2022 study by the DOT, Open Streets corridors were an average of 19% above their pre-pandemic baseline while control corridors were 29% below — a difference of nearly 50%.

Studies by Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit that works to reduce the number of cars in the city to promote sustainability and safety, found benefits including redacted traffic violence to accessible public space in deprived communities.

As of April 22, the DOT plans to feature 160 locations, stretching nearly 300 blocks, in the 2023 Open Streets program. This includes 25 new locations and plans to deliver permanent redesigns to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists.

These new locations will be in Bushwick and Brownsville in Brooklyn, and South Jamaica in Queens. There are currently applications for seven new Queens Opens Streets and five new Brooklyn Open Streets.

Berman claims that some cyclists have harassed drivers — the lawyer shared that his office has a video of a cyclist yelling at a paratransit driver pulled to the curb trying to drop off a disabled person.

“The city didn’t spend any time thinking about this issue before they went ahead and said, ‘Nope, the bikers want it. We are going to give it to them. We are going to make these beautiful pedestrian plazas,’” Berman said. “It’s great if you are an able-bodied person to be able to enjoy that space, but the disabled are not provided any accommodations so that they can enjoy those spaces either.”

Accommodations for the elderly and disabled, he expressed, can be compared to the accommodations made for children heading to school. They have been ensured crossing guards — no thought to this kind of solution, or any, has been provided to the disabled and elderly who live along these open streets.

Grasso Officially Makes Ballot for Queens DA

By Alicia Venter


Retired Judge George Grasso is officially running for Queens District Attorney along the Democratic line, filing 9,500 signatures to run for the position on Monday.

Immediately after leaving City Hall, Grasso hopped on the train to Queens Borough Hall where he shared updates with the campaign, many times delving into fervent monologues about an increase in crime in Queens.

Shooting CompStat statistics off at a whim, Grasso claimed Katz was “too little, too late” in addressing the crime sprees across Queens, particularly Flushing, and called on the current District Attorney to debate him before the primary on June 27.

“We have a crime wave in Queens right now. Crime in Queens is out of control during the tenure of Melinda Katz,” he said.

According to the most updated CompStat information, Grasso passionately stated, NYPD’s Patrol Borough Queens South has seen an increase of major felony crime of over 40% in two years.

“You think that’s bad?” he questioned. “How about Patrol Borough Queens North?” According to CompStat, major felony crime is up over 68%. The 109th Precinct, he said, is up over 126%. While currently running on the Democratic line, Grasso shared that he has begun the process to run independently should he lose the party’s nomination.

Herb Woods, who worked with Grasso in the NYPD, shared a few words in support of his old friend.

“If you don’t acknowledge a problem, you can’t fix a problem,” Grasso announced.

The Grasso for Queens Campaign received 11 endorsements from local law enforcement agencies on Monday, including from the New York 10-13 Association, the Retired Lieutenants Association and Retired Police Association of New York State.

“If you want to bring back safety, security and sanity to the county of Queens, it is so important to vote for Judge Grasso,” said Bob Valentino, the President of the New York City Retired Transit Police Officers Association, which has endorsed Grasso. “With him, you will bring back Queens like it used to be in the old days.”

Herb Woods, former NYPD Assistant Commissioner, Department Advocate, who led police discipline, has known Grasso for 35 years after meeting as police officers of the NYPD. Seeing him rise through the ranks, Woods claimed to be a first-hand witness to Grasso working diligently within the department to create strategies to reduce crime when he was the first deputy commissioner of the NYPD.

“He wanted to immediately create a disciplinary system that was fair, that was transparent, would enforce due process and brought everyone to the table equally,” said Woods. “He made it doubly clear to me that whether you are a police officer or a civilian, no one is above the law.

The first step in Grasso’s plan, he explained, is quality of life enforcement. It is the small things — not enforcing misdemeanor assault and trespassing, or those who avoid tolls — that must be enforced to avoid repeat offenders.

Current district attorneys, he feels, are too muted across the city, citing State District Attorney David Soares as a role model of how all district attorneys should speak out.

“This is real now. I consider this the official first day of my campaign,” Grasso said. “We are going to win on June 27… this is coming. This is happening.”

Ramadan Food Drive feeds 150 families in Astoria

Facing Rising Prices, Astoria Welfare Society Distributes Staples for Holy Month


By Alicia Venter


The Astoria Welfare Society partnered with Hydro-Quebec and Queens Together to support the needs of Islam-practicing Astorians with a food drive for the start of Ramadan on Thursday.

Over 150 families were fed on the first day of Ramadan, each given staple cooking ingredients including flour, dates, beans and oil — these basic items are crucial for the month of Ramadan, explained Md. Jabed Uddin, the general secretary of the Astoria Welfare Society.

“Every week, in different places, we are serving the community,” he said. The Astoria Welfare Society is also keeping a community fridge for Ramadan, and is distributing food to mosques throughout the area to break fast.

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting in Islam, and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Observed by Muslims across the world, it is a month of prayer, reflection and fasting, abstaining from food and drink between dawn to sunset. This fasting is to increase spiritual discipline and strengthen one’s relationship with Allah. 

Hydro-Quebec donated $2,000 for the food drive after Peter Rose, the Director of Stakeholder Relations in New York, was told by Uddin that the Astoria Welfare Society wouldn’t be able to host a food drive this year. Without any other financial support, Rose was more than willing to offer what the Astoria Welfare Society needed. 

“This was a basic community need that was not being met. As a good corporate citizen, this was something we should help with, so I’m really happy,” Rose said.

With the Consumer Price Index showing a drastic six percent increase in inflation for New York City, the average cost of living for residents has inherently grown with it. 

“I go to the grocery store and everything is more expensive. It wouldn’t surprise me that people are going to have a hard time getting just the basics for Ramadan. So I said yeah, we are going to sponsor this, because it’s the most important month of the entire year,” Rose shared.

Hydro-Quebec is an electricity company based in Canada that generates more than 99% of its electricity from water. In a 25-year contract with the city, Rose expressed how their long-time permanence in New York gives them an obligation to participate and support the community. Notably, they have been involved in the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, and have partnered with a local laundromat to ensure low-income children have access to clean clothes for school.

“We do all these community projects because we need to leave a legacy,” Rose said. “We need to help support the community in the needs they have.”

Soon after Hydro-Quebec threw their support behind the food drive, Queens Together, with Councilwoman Julie Won’s office, provided $1,000 for the drive.

A restaurant association and community service organization, Queens Together started in 2020 — the start of the pandemic — to help small businesses and the community. 

“Give people the staples they need to cook, and that empowers them to take care of their families,” shared Jonathan Forgash, co-founder and Executive Director of Queens Together.

Briarwood family demands justice for dog euthanized by ACC

By Alicia Venter


On March 12, the Leon family of Briarwood frantically searched for their missing dog Leona.

As a 19-year-old animal, they knew her eyesight wasn’t great and she was frail, so they spent the morning walking the blocks around their home calling her name and scouring the internet for any signs of her.

Through Facebook, they found good news — a picture of Leona on a missing pets group page. Upon calling the Good Samaritan who made the post, they found out she had been taken to an Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC) shelter at 2336 Linden Blvd in Brooklyn.

This, the Leon family described on Monday at a press conference in Briarwood, is where the good news ended. Upon calling the shelter, the family discovered their dog had been euthanized by the shelter managed by ACC, which is overseen by the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

Standing at the intersection where Leona was first discovered by that good samaritan, on the Southeast corner of Smedly Street and Coolidge Avenue, the Leon family and local council member James F. Gennaro (D-Kew Gardens) claimed that the ACC went outside of its own policy and euthanized Leona inhumanely. They are calling upon the DOHMH to launch a formal investigation into the practices of the ACC.

“This is a grieving family that suffered the loss of their beloved pet, Leona, at the hands of the ACC for reasoning that I truly believe was completely unwarranted and atrocious,” Gennaro said. “Nothing like this should befall this family.”

“They didn’t get us the opportunity to say goodbye,” Vianey Areica Leon, the family’s mother said. 

Vianey Areica Leon, the family’s mother, meeting Councilmember Gennaro for the first time.

According to policy found on their website, ACC shelters give potential owners 72 hours to reclaim their pet.

“We also will check for a microchip and search through various databases for any reports of lost pets that may fit the description of that animal. If no one claims during the holding period, he/she will receive a Placement Evaluation to determine next steps,” the website states.

Juan Leon described how the official time of death has not been provided for their dog, but that he expects it was just hours after she arrived at the shelter.

“Part of us is truly gone. She was the first love of my life,” Juan said, adding that he doesn’t understand how the ACC is able to operate in this way.

“We keep getting told different answers and we’re starting to notice that with every comment the ACC makes, they change the rules. They have a loophole for every action that they do,” he said.

However, the ACC shared in a statement to the Queens Ledger that the pets’ deteriorating health conditions led them to step outside this policy.

“She had no identification, no dog license and was not microchipped. Upon intake, Leona was seen spinning in circles and was wobbly when walking.  A comprehensive physical exam was done by a veterinarian indicating that she was in a very debilitated state and suffering from progressive neurologic symptoms.  She was minimally aware of her surroundings, non-reactive to stimuli, weak and unable to stand for more than a few minutes before falling.  She was emaciated with a body condition of 2/9 indicating possible chronic illness. The doctors at ACC do not take euthanasia lightly.  It is their job to direct a course that is in the best interest of the animal.  In Leona’s case, given her present state and in addition to all the other chronic, debilitating conditions she had (heart disease, blind, deaf, and severe dental issues) the doctors believed her to be suffering,” the statement read.

The emailed statement then stated that the law was on their side.

“For dogs with serious medical conditions and especially those stemming from extreme old age who are in pain and suffering, it is the duty of veterinary staff to provide peaceful end of life care. This decision is not made lightly but is always made in the best interest of the pet. In these cases, if a pet has been lost or abandoned, we scan for identification that ideally will lead us back to an owner before any end-of-life decision is made. However, if there is no information at all from a microchip or any other identification, we must make the decision on our own within the most humane timeframe. Euthanasia of stray animals is regulated by New York State Agriculture and Markets Law: The law specifically states that if an animal is suffering, euthansia may be performed before the stray hold period is over.”

Juan shared that their veterinarian had described how there was little that could be done regarding the age-related issues that Leona had, but the family made the decision with the veterinarian that she would live the rest of her life at home.

“Leona never stood a chance the moment she walked to ACC and that’s not fair,” he said. “That’s not fair. She should have came home to us, and she should have died on our terms. Our family should have made that decision of when to start her end-of-life story.”

Juan’s sister Ericka expressed heartbreak over what happened to her dog, adding that she “thought shelters were a safe haven.”

“They took my dog from me,” she shared, holding back tears, adding that while she plans to fight with her family for justice for Leona, “at the end of the day, I’ve already lost.”

The Leon family suggested that their dog was cremated without their permission, and when they went to retrieve their pet, they were met with a hostile environment, claiming they were reminded more than once that there were officers near the property.

They also insinuated that they plan to take legal action.

The Leon family is planning a rally on April 15 at the ACC Administrative Offices at 11 Park Place in Manhattan.

Gennaro is calling upon the New York City Council’s Legislative Integrity Unit to ensure that the city is on-track in construction of a full-service shelter in Queens and the Bronx, as mandated by Local Law 123 of 2018. The law requires that the shelters be completed by July 1, 2024, and the Queens shelter is under construction in Ridgewood. The mayor’s office did not reply by publication with details of how far along the construction is.

Through having a fully-functioning city shelter in each borough, Gennaro believes that capacity will no longer be a consideration in the decision-making by veterinarians regarding euthanasia.

“I don’t know if it’s a capacity issue, where they have to do whatever it takes to minimize capacity,” Gennaro said. 

GJDC’s Justin Rodgers Reimagines Jamaica Avenue

By Alicia Venter


Justin Rodgers has been a part of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) for 17 years — however, Jamaica has been a part of him for much longer, having grown up in the Southeast Queens neighborhood.

Justin Rodgers. Photo: GJDC

Margherita Pizza was the place to be growing up (and today, he noted, as the pizza parlor is still open) for now-President and CEO of the GJDC.

It’s this connection, Rodgers explained, that led the Board of Directors at GJDC to unanimously elevate him to President and CEO in June 2022 after he served as Interim President from November 2021. He is the third president of GJDC since it was formed 56 years ago.

“In the eight months that I was actually interim president, I was able to do a lot in a short period of time. I expanded our business service group and I was able to raise money for the corporation. I was able to really prove that I can run the corporation,” he shared. “That being said, I think that what I had over other candidates is that I’m personally invested in Jamaica. I’m from Jamaica. That’s one hundred percent why I am still here after 17 years.”

To develop Jamaica, Rodgers began his time at GJDC developing Jamaica Avenue, the neighborhood’s bustling shopping corridor.

The street grew in the 1920’s as Jamaica became a transportation hub. LIRR lines, subway lines and buses all converge near Jamaica Avenue, and major shopping centers began to appear.

In 1930, on the corner of 171st St. and Jamaica Avenue, the first King Kullen Grocery Company, which the Smithsonian Institute has deemed ‘America’s First Supermarket,’ was born. It has been home to department stores including Macy’s and Gertz, and now welcomes national brands such as Target, Aldi, Burlington, Old Navy and Primark.

Bringing national brands was Rodger’s project for 14 years, as concerned residents expressed to him how they were driving to Nassau County or hopping on the E train to the Queens Center to shop at those locations.

Now, Rodgers leads the effort to bring mom-and-pop shops back to Jamaica. The key, he explained, is to present real estate that is on the side streets to Jamaica Avenue.

“It’s not financially possible for mom and pop shops to open on Jamaica Avenue due to the high cost of rent. You just can’t make the numbers work. But you can make the numbers work on side streets,” said Rodgers. “So now we’re in the process of working with potential restaurant tours on some of the side streets.”

Retaining businesses was a point of concern during a recent meeting of the Sutphin Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) Annual Meeting, when the board of directors was elected for a newly consolidated BID emerging from the Sutphin Avenue BID, the 165th Street Special Assessment District and the Jamaica Center Special Assessment District. The question arose: What must be done to get businesses to stay open in Jamaica?

The issue with businesses retention, Rodgers described, has a considerable amount to do with the new busways along Jamaica Avenue. Implemented in October 2021, these busways allow only buses, trucks and emergency vehicles to make trips along Jamaica Avenue between Sutphin Blvd. and 168th St. in both directions. This bus project was designed to increase bus speeds and reliability for 14 bus routes on Jamaica Avenue and 19 bus routes on Archer Ave.

On Jamaica Avenue, all other vehicles may make local trips to access the curb, the DOT stated on their website, but must make the next available turn off the busway.

Some businesses have seen a 40-50% drop in business, according to Rodgers, since this was implemented, and the GJDC is trying to work with elected officials and the DOT to try and find ways to modify the busways.

“The busways have really harmed businesses, not only along Jamaica Avenue, but also on the side streets. The reason why is because Queens is a driving community, specifically Southeast Queens,” he said. “It’s very difficult to navigate around Downtown Jamaica if you are driving. Some people just don’t want the headache and they don’t come anymore.”

Rodgers suggested that busways be limited only to peak hours.

The consolidated BID that is coming to Jamaica, Rodgers described, will “100% benefit the businesses,” because its $1.4 million assessment will allow them to provide additional services to the businesses and the community.

Those additional services must be voted on, but they can mean more vendors, security and additional cleaning days.

Crime is a major concern for those who are looking to shop on Jamaica Avenue, especially with the recent shooting of a 22-year-old cop along the street. However, Rodgers emphasized that the shooting was an “isolated incident,” and that efforts by the 103rd Precinct and their Commanding Officer Eric A. Robinson’s involvement in community events and presence have made Jamaica a safer place.

Since taking the helm at GJDC, Rodgers has been able to provide national retailers to the residents of Jamaica, and continues to work in order to ensure small businesses continue to feel supported. For more information, visit

Climate resilience plan developed for Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Congressional grant solidifies plans to ID climate hazards, resilience strategies

By Jessica Meditz

From left to right: Jean Silva, Joseph Sutkowi, Cortney Koenig Worrall, Grace Meng, Anthony Sama, Rebecca Pryor

A climate resilience plan is in the cards for Flushing Meadows–Corona Park (FMCP).

As part of a federal spending package to benefit 10 Queens community projects during the 2022 fiscal year, Waterfront Alliance will spearhead “Flushing Meadows Corona Park: A Hub for Climate Resilience” – a plan that’s slated to result in a set of concept-level designs and recommendations to reduce flooding, which would adapt the park for future climate challenges.

On a frigid Friday afternoon, District 6 Congresswoman Grace Meng was joined at the Unisphere by Waterfront Alliance team members, NYC Parks representatives and local conservationists to celebrate the $531,000 allocated for the project, as well as discuss the negative impacts of climate change.

Honing in on the importance of flood mitigation, Meng said this project will go a long way to help identify, assess and address areas in need of remediation.

She added that it will also increase public awareness about climate risks, build community participation, planning and infrastructure projects, as well as ensure that future plantings will be protected from extremely hot temperatures.

“Flushing Meadows–Corona Park was not exempt from [Hurricane Ida] as it suffered from excessive flooding. The severe weather underscored how real climate change is. It has been a gigantic wake up call for Queens, New York and the rest of the country, and more lives and property damage will be at risk from these types of natural disasters if we do not act,” Meng said. “We have to rebuild in a better, stronger and more equitable way for all in our communities and with greater resiliency than ever before. This wonderful project is an example of how we will be able to do that.”

Working with Queens community leaders, partners in city government and academia, Waterfront Alliance will provide tools and lead events to share and gather information that will culminate in a climate visioning for the park.

Cortney Koenig Worrall, president and CEO of Waterfront Alliance, brought up that FMCP was named by the Center for an Urban Future as the most-flooded park in the city alongside Forest Park – due to increasingly heavy rains.

She feels excited to create a preliminary set of designs that could turn into pilot projects, and thus be more eligible for federal and other funding.

“We’re studying this project so that it is designed to not sit on the shelf, that they can move forward and be implemented and constructed. We recognize how important it is for the community to be involved and engaged in all of this work. They have the answers to many of the solutions that we need,” Worrall said. “We’ll be dedicating a tremendous amount of time and effort in this project to engage all people you see here, as well as community members and others who may not consider themselves experts at all, but have expertise that we need to know in order to build the right projects.”

Black History Trilogy returns to Flushing Town Hall

By Stephanie Meditz

“The Challenge to Defy Gravity” will feature several special guests, including The Savoy Swingers.

This Black History Month, Flushing Town Hall will once again celebrate Black history and culture with its Black History Trilogy.

The Trilogy is a series of three performances by a lineup of artists who pay homage to Black culture and iconic performers.

The first installment took place on Feb. 3 with The Chuck Berry Rock & Roll Concert Party, featuring vocalist and guitarist Keith “The Captain” Gamble.

The Trilogy will continue on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. with “The Challenge to Defy Gravity,” a workshop and dance performance presented by choreographer Mickey Davidson.

Mickey Davidson will bring swing-era dance moves to Flushing Town Hall on Feb. 10.

“The night will consist of a tapestry of cultural expressions that were popular at the same time as the Lindy Hop,” Davidson said. “The title ‘Defying Gravity’ symbolizes the air steps that the specialized dancers who danced in the northeast corner of the Savoy Ballroom did.”

Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the Savoy Ballroom was a place of social movement during the swing era that cultivated the Lindy Hop.

“Dance steps that migrated with the people to the big cities such as New York found their way into the Savoy Ballroom,” she said. “As a dancer and as an African American dancer, the history of African American dance has always been important to me in finding my own identity and my own pride in my culture.”

Davidson has studied with Norma Miller, Frankie Manning and Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel, some of the most influential dancers and choreographers of the swing era.

“For me personally, I see this period of dance as a real blending of Afrocentric and Eurocentric cultural concepts that developed here in America as a result of us all living together,” she said. “And the music and the dance are one, they’re not separate. So when you do this dance, you are moving musically. You’re listening and it’s a three-way street between two people and the music…it’s part of an overall story of a people.”

The Big City Stompers, who work specifically on air steps, will demonstrate the swift movements and literally defy gravity at the performance.

Not only will audience members see these steps in action, but they will experience dancing with a partner to live music in real time.

Prior to the performance, there will be a workshop in which all attendees can learn and experience swing-era dancing firsthand, regardless of prior dance experience.

“Culturally, that was the learning process in the African American community with this type of dancing,” Davidson said. “You come, you become part of a community and you learn on the dance floor. And so we are mixing…the European process of giving directions and counts with just allowing yourself to have an experience.”

Davidson will collaborate with band leader and longtime musician, Patience Higgins.

“We’re all performing, dancing, playing music from our hearts and from the essence of who we are as artists in the music of jazz,” she said.

Davidson is primary choreographer and director for Mickey D. & Friends, a group of artists, dancers, and musicians that explore the interlocking relationships between movement and music.

The group performs various types of African American dance, including tap, sanding, swing, modern, jazz and abstract jazz.

Tickets for “The Challenge to Defy Gravity” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at

“I just like to have a good party, so come out and hang out because culturally, hanging out is a big part of learning and experiencing African American culture at its best,” Davidson said. “African American culture being developed in America includes all kinds of people and all kinds of expression. That’s what makes it a universal art. So if you like music, if you like being around people, if you like to dance…come hang out and have a good time, and let’s be a community.”

On Feb. 24 at 8 p.m., the Black History Trilogy will conclude with “Soul Men: The Music of Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and More” featuring vocalist Billy Cliff.

On Feb. 24, Billy Cliff will pay tribute to some of the most iconic men in R&B/soul music.

The lineup will feature songs from iconic soul artists in film, R&B and pop music.

“We’re doing all this music just to commemorate all these great men who have contributed to soul music,” Cliff said.

Originally a child actor at the Amas Repertory Theatre, Cliff discovered his powerful voice and began singing in choirs.

His first professional gig was singing backup for R&B singer Angela Bofill.

“That was really the beginning of my career. From there, I was singing background for a lot of different people,” he said. “I sang background for Maxwell, to singing lead for Kool & The Gang and singing lead for Spyro Gyra. And then ended up on a two year tour with the Pet Shop Boys in Europe and around the world.”

As a musician, Cliff is most inspired by Marvin Gaye, primarily because he wrote and produced music with a message.

“[Soul music] is about the stories and the people. A lot of it had to do with the people who made the music,” he said. “That’s one thing about soul music: you’ve always got great people doing this music that is basically a music of people who have…lived through something, people who have experienced real life.”

Cliff’s music career was also influenced by his mother, Tina Fabrique, who sang the theme song for Reading Rainbow. Last year, Fabrique closed out Flushing Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy paying homage to Gospel with “The Power & The Glory—Music of the Black Church.”

“The producer of the show called my mother and said, ‘Hey, I need a guy who can really do a great tribute to soul men.’ She said, ‘Oh, my son is a great performer,’” he said. “So that’s how this all came to be, pretty much.”

During his 30 years in the industry, Cliff has worked with big names such as Freddie Jackson, Ashford & Simpson, The Blues Brothers Band and Steve Cropper, who wrote “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding.

Cliff will release an EP of new, original music in the spring.

“I’m trying to dismiss the myth that after 50 years old, you can’t get out here and do something that’s meaningful and that will touch people in the world, musically,” he said. “I want people to know that, as long as you’ve got a great heart, you’ve got a great mind and your body’s not too far away from those two, that you can get out here and you can do something and inspire folks.”

Tickets for “Soul Men” are available for $15 or $12 for members, seniors and students with ID at

“This month being Black music month, it’s a great time for people to come out and see and hear some of the greatest R&B and soul music in history,” Cliff said.

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