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Queens Rising at the Gantries

A light drizzle couldn’t stop the month-long celebration of arts and culture in the borough, with Queens Rising making its way to Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City last weekend.

Sunday’s day-long event, with a view of midtown Manhattan as the backdrop, featured live performances from R&B group Gentleman of Soul, pioneering Bhangra artist and activist DJ Rekha, jazz vibraphonist Joel Ross and the Cumbia River Band.

With over a dozen food truck vendors lined up for the free event, the weekend’s live entertainment marks the halfway point of the multi-disciplinary arts celebration throughout the month of June.

Upcoming events as part of Queens Rising include a “Dance Day” at the Queens County Farm Museum on Saturday, June 18, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as an ongoing free outdoor concert series at Culture Lab LIC on Thursdays through Sundays.

For a complete list of events this month, visit Queensrising.nyc.

Some of the live music featured at Queens Rising at Gantry State Park in LIC

Chamber visits Albany for ‘Queens Day’

On May 10, hundreds of business leaders from Queens visited Albany to meet with state lawmakers during Queens Day in Albany. The event, which gives local business leaders an opportunity to advocate for the interests of commerce, was held in person for the first time since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago.

NYS Sen. Joe Addabbo (center) meets with members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce on “Albany Day” (Photo Dominick Totino)

New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., who chairs the committee on racing, gaming, and wagering, delivered remarks during a luncheon with Chamber members, who later met with dozens of State Senate and Assembly Members. Before returning to Queens, the visitors to The Capitol enjoyed a dinner catered by dozens of Queens restaurants.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of Queens’ diverse neighborhoods, and throughout the pandemic, they have played an essential role in keeping our communities afloat, all while facing unprecedented challenges,” Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech said. “One of the most important things we do as a Chamber is advocate for the interests of our members. It was inspiring to meet with our elected representatives in person, so they could hear from our members first-hand about the challenges they face. I thank all of the business leaders who joined us, as well as Senator Addabbo and his colleagues in the legislature, who listened to their concerns.”

Addabbo, whose district represents the Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth, Ozone Park, Ridgewood, Woodside, and Rockaway communities, said that Queens Day in Albany is one of his favorite days during the legislative session.

“It was great to welcome back Queens Day to Albany, demonstrating that we can overcome a pandemic and make attempts to return to normal life,” Addabbo said. “Queens Day allows us to meet with our constituents, as well as great community organizations and businesses, while we are upstate working on legislative issues. Queens Day reminds us why it’s important to promote our local businesses and to recognize what they’ve been through during COVID and their efforts to help others throughout the pandemic. I am thankful to Tom Grech and the entire Queens Chamber for being there when needed for our businesses and for allowing me to participate in their Queens Day festivities.”

Members of the Chamber speak with legislators on Queens Day in Albany

During their meetings with state lawmakers, members of the Chamber took the opportunity to discuss several issues impacting businesses both in the borough and throughout the state, including:

  • The New York State Film Production Tax Credit – The State budget for the 2023 fiscal year extends the credit for the next three years. Currently, it provides a 25 percent credit for qualified production expenditures. Members of the Chamber advocated for extending and expanding the credit by eliminating the annual cap, eliminating the sunset clause, and increasing the tax credit from 25 percent to 30 percent. Queens is home to several film and television production studios including Silvercup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios, and will soon welcome Robert DeNiro’s Wildflower Studios to Astoria.
  • Real Property Tax Law 485-w – The proposal from Gov. Kathy Hochul aims to replace the existing 421-a tax exemption for developers building affordable multi-family housing. It is well established that New York City is in need of affordable housing, but building can be expensive and challenging due to cost, taxes, and increasingly more expensive insurance and utility costs. The Queens Chamber came out in support of the 485-w program proposal, which would create affordable housing through privately-financed development projects in parts of the City where government struggles to build on its own.
  • Making Resorts World New York City a full-scale commercial casino – Since it opened in Ozone Park more than 10 years ago, Resorts World has created good-paying union jobs, employed a strong and diverse workforce, generated much-needed revenue for local schools, supported local nonprofit organizations, and generated economic activity which continues to support local small businesses. Members of the Chamber said that granting RWNYC one of the three remaining casino licenses would allow them to double their workforce by adding over 1,000 union jobs and doing even more to support the local community.

“It was wonderful to have Queens come to Albany to share our great diversity and talents with everyone in New York State,” Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan said. “I enjoyed tasting all the food from our district, particularly the three-generation female-owned restaurant, Ricas Pupusas & Mas, as well as meeting small business owners from across Queens. I am very appreciative that I was honored with my Queens colleagues.”

Outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan celebrates her retirement on Queens Day in Albany

Nolan, whose district represents the Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Astoria, Long Island City, and Maspeth neighborhoods in Queens, announced earlier this year that she plans to retire after her current term expires this year. She has been a state representative for the district since 1985.

“Queens Day in Albany 2022 was a complete success,” said Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman said. “I was so glad to welcome the best county in the state to our capital once again to showcase our small businesses, culture, food, and customs.”

Hyndman was elected to the State House in 2015 and serves as a representative of the 29th district, which encompasses the Laurelton, Rosedale, St. Albans, Hollis, Springfield Gardens, and Jamaica communities.

“If you want to experience the cultural diversity of our borough, look no further than the small businesses and restaurants that enrich our neighborhoods. I was privileged to sponsor the Senate resolution celebrating Queens Day in New York State. We appreciate the efforts of the Queens Chamber of Commerce as they assist small businesses,” State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said.

Stavisky became the first woman from Queens to be elected to the Senate in 1999 and currently serves as Chairperson of the State Senate Committee on Higher Education.

Members of the Queens Chamber of Commerce visit the State Capitol for Queens Day in Albany (Photo: Dominick Totino)

Queens College celebrates completion of $9.8M athletic field renovation

Elected officials cut the ribbon on a brand new $9.8 million athletic field renovation at Queens College on Monday, May 9.

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblymember Nily Rozic, Councilmember Francisco Moya and former Councilmember Rory Lancman joined Queens College President Frank Wu for an inaugural lap around the new track.

The $9.8 million project began in January 2021, with Assemblymember Rozic helping to secure a $500,000 grant for track renovation.

In addition to Queens College, the track will serve students at Townsend Harris High School, John Bowne High School and will be available to community members at-large.

The new soccer field will be used by division II level athletes at Queens College, and for intramural events and physical education classes.

On social media, Moya praised the completion of the athletic field and track.

“The future Footballers will be coming straight out of Queens College,” he tweeted.

Briarwood native touches hearts with ‘H Is For Haiku’

New York City children—particularly those who grew up in Queens—haven’t always had the easiest time relating to the flowery descriptions of nature detailed in the books and stories they read.

But for Sydell Rosenberg, who raised her family in Briarwood, living in the big city is precisely what drove her to bring her passion for haiku poetry to life.
Unfortunately, Rosenberg passed away in October 1996, and her children’s poetry book, “H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z” was posthumously published by her daughter Amy Losak in 2018.

Losak said that her mother discovered haiku poetry sometime in the ‘60s, and quickly fell in love with the art form.

“I like to say that haiku found her,” Losak said.
“She did seem to bond with this compact, lustrous form of poetry. It’s the shortest form of poetry in the world, and yet because of its small size, it’s perhaps the most expansive,” she continued. “It can capture so much, in such few words and such few lines.”

Rosenberg, whose daily routine consisted of traveling through Queens neighborhoods including Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, used her bustling surroundings as her primary source of inspiration for her work, including the poems in “H Is For Haiku.”
With images of street cats chasing after peach pits and keeping distant from pigeons and sparrows, Rosenberg makes use of the scenery and nature that is familiar to New Yorkers—specifically in Queens.

Briarwood Author Sydell Rosenberg

In her book, there is a poem that reads: “Queueing for ice cream, sweat-sprinkled office workers on Queens Boulevard,” in which children can interpret as their favorite neighborhood ice cream shop, the first signs of spring, or the Mister Softee trucks.

“She wasn’t galavanting around the world searching for exotic adventures, she found her own small adventures right in her neighborhood,” Losak said.

“She actually did write a longer poem about the Q60 bus going down Queens Boulevard, which I’m trying to sort out the versions and submit to a magazine perhaps,” she continued. “But that’s where she found the fodder for her writing — in her daily life as a resident of Queens.”

Losak said that the loss of her mother was very sudden, shocking and traumatic for the family.

Even though she knew her mother dreamed of publishing a children’s haiku picture book, Losak did not begin resurrecting her poems until 2011, or assembling them into a children’s book until 2015.

“That took me a long, long time, because the grief was so overwhelming. It was paralyzing and it lasted a really long time,” Losak said.

“Finally, I started taking baby steps to gather some of her work that she and I felt were best suited for a young audience. I researched publishers that didn’t require an agent to submit because I figured no one would want to represent a dead author, even though I was her living surrogate,” she said. “The book was the ultimate goal, and through a combination of determination, luck and utter generosity and kindness of the poetry community is what got it done.”

It was another haiku poet who recommended Losak submit “H Is For Haiku” to the book’s publisher, Penny Candy Books, who loved the book and signed the illustrator, Sawsan Chalabi.

The book was well received by both the poetry and teaching communities, and was honored in 2019 by the National Council of Teachers of English as a notable poetry book.

Losak has also participated in various visits and readings around Queens and elsewhere, including Kew & Willow Books in Kew Gardens.

Although Losak did not always find haiku so fascinating and illusive, she said it was later on in her life when she realized the true influence her mother had on her.

“Even with all the fits and starts and the setbacks, it became so important for me to get this to some kind of conclusion, because over time, her dream became my dream,” Losak said.

“And over time, I realized I couldn’t have the luxury of infinite time. I am close in age now to the age she was when she died suddenly,” she said. “I had to make that decision, and I had to get it published.”

Rosenberg was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968, and Losak keeps the family tradition alive as a member of the society today.

In addition to “H Is For Haiku,” Rosenberg’s chapbook, “Poised Across the Sky” was published in 2020 with Kattywompus Press.

Losak currently works on a collaborative, mother-daughter adult haiku book, “Wing Strokes,” which is slated to be published later this year with Kelsay Books.
However, she emphasized that “H Is For Haiku” is what started it all.

“It definitely captures in very lucid, simple but evocative language her life and by extension, anyone’s life being a resident of Queens. The great thing about haiku is that you find the universal in the particular,” Losak said.

“Even though it’s the shortest form of poetry, it’s not easy to write. But that’s what makes it so rewarding,” she continued. “These poems are her life, but at the same time, these are poems that anybody can relate to.”

She encourages all people, old and young, to indulge in poetry over the month of April, which is National Poetry Month.

“H Is For Haiku” is available for purchase from various sources, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kew & Willow Books.

QCC honors local business heroes

The Queens Chamber of Commerce hosted its first-ever Business Heroes of the Year Awards in front of about 400 people at Terrace on the Park last Wednesday night.
President and CEO Tom Grech took the time to introduce and honor the awardees, who come from various industries, such as hospitality and technology, and philanthropic organizations.
District Attorney Melinda Katz spoke at the event, expressing her gratitude for small businesses and all they’ve done for the borough during the height of COVID-19.
“At the end of the day, whether we were dealing with a worldwide pandemic, whether we were dealing with an overdue conversation on policing in the United States, whatever we were working on and dealing with, we had to count on our businesses to continue to thrive and survive,” said Katz.
She presented the first award of the evening to Melva Miller of ABNY, who was also Katz’s former deputy borough president when she served as bBorough president.
Charles Boyce of Boyce Technologies was another honoree, whom Grech commended for saving lives throughout New York State by mass producing ventilators during the depths of the pandemic.
While not everyone can be a frontline healthcare worker themselves, many people view food and hospitality as a way of symbolically healing.
This is especially true for honorees Rachel Kellner of Aigner Chocolates, Nupur Arora of Queens Curry Kitchen, Mark Boccia of Bourbon Street, Patrick Oropeza of Bolivian Llama Party, Frank Russo of Russo’s on the Bay and Declan Morrison of Stacked Sandwich Shop.
As for services and organizations who dedicate their time to help smaller businesses succeed, honorees Jonnel Doris of NYC Small Business Services, Larry Zogby of RDS Same Day Delivery Service, and Michael Peterson of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation fit the bill.
“It was a wonderful evening and it’s a great honor to be given this award by the Queens Chamber,” said Michael Peterson.
“We’ve worked very hard with them along with the other chambers of commerce across the city to help out small businesses,” he continued. “So to be here tonight in person to meet some of the other small business leaders in this community and to be a part of this is a great honor.”
In addition to the businesses being honored for their efforts to the borough, the Queens Chamber of Commerce held a toy drive for children in need that guests could donate to for a chance to win a raffle.

Concrete-less Jungle: medians to get green makeover

The concrete slabs that divide Hillside Avenue in Queens Village will soon be replaced with several new green drainage spaces, better protecting the eastern Queens neighborhood from flooding.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Vincent Sapienza says the seven new green spaces along Hillside Avenue will capture millions of gallons of stormwater, reducing local flooding and overflows of the sewer system.
In September, an overflowed sewer system was a main culprit behind the damage sustained during Hurricane Ida.
“Pavement is not our friend,” said Sapienza outside Martin Van Buren High School last week. “We want to try and get as many permeable surfaces in the city as we can and let the ground do its work and soak up stormwater rather than have it runoff and cause flooding.”
The project is anticipated to break ground in late 2022 and construction will continue for up to 12 months. The total cost of the project is approximately $2.5 million.
True to its name, the stretch of Hillside Avenue in the northern part of Queens Village is situated at the bottom of a hill, parallel to the Grand Central Parkway. DEP says a minimum of 5 million gallons will be captured in the new green spaces, which will also serve as habitat for pollinators and other threatened species in Jamaica Bay.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik described the current medians as “a sea of concrete.”
“The honey locust trees didn’t do well here” said Grodenchik. “This is going to change the environment here. It’s going to make the area literally cooler, because we won’t have the concrete soaking up all this heat.”
Incoming councilwoman Linda Lee vowed to see the project to its completion.
“Hopefully it can be a space the students and the community can utilize, because one thing that COVID has taught us is that outdoor spaces cannot be taken for granted,” said Lee. “I think this project will be a huge resource and benefit for the community.”
Kirby Lindell, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1958, is thrilled with the planned upgrades.
“I’ve been writing letters since before Barry was the councilman,” said Lindell. “In the summer, the only thing that survived was the weeds.”
Instead, Lindell and his neighbors will soon see the patches of concrete replaced with new trees and native plantings, with the addition of environmentally friendly green infrastructure
“I am so happy,” added Lindell. “I know how difficult it is even for the local council people to get projects like this done with all the bureaucratic stuff that goes with it. It’s going to be so important to people in our neighborhood.”

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