RDRC is involved in a number of commercial revitalization projects focused on Downtown Far Rockaway. Whether organizing merchants, improving and activating our public spaces, investing in our small businesses, or partnering with our elected officials and City agencies to comprehensively improve our infrastructure and streetscapes and for the betterment of our community for generations to come.
ABOUT DOWNTOWN FAR ROCKAWAY
Downtown Far Rockaway, once known as “The Village” during its peak because of its pristine shops and thriving business services lost its luster dating back to the early 1970’s due a variety of reasons-lack of City investment in infrastructure and streetscape amenities, resident and business relocation into suburban areas, and the closure of many manufacturing businesses that supported a strong middle class population.
Despite its challenges Downtown Far Rockaway remains possibly the most important commercial corridor due to:
- Geographic location as the only land-based entry/exit point into the Rockaways
- Remains outside of the FEMA flood zone boundaries (post-Superstorm Sandy)
- DFR is an intermodal transit hub – bus, subway and commuter rail
- Health Care Accessibility – with over 40 medical and healthcare related practices anchored by St. John’s Episcopal Hospital and the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Care Center
- The largest concentration of retail, business, health care and community organizations serving the largest concentration of residents located in the eastern areas of the Rockaways – Far Rockaway, Bayswater, Edgemere and Arverne
The Origins of A Comprehensive Downtown Far Rockaway Revitalization
Beach 20th Street Pedestrian Plaza
The renovation of the Beach 20th Street Pedestrian Plaza was first conceived by LaVida Jervis (REMA), then NYC Councilman James Sanders, Jr. and Kevin Alexander (RDRC) dating back to 2008 and served as the pre-cursor to the creation of the Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Project. As a condition for approval, the Public Design Commission requested a full economic development plan be developed for Downtown Far Rockaway. Rather than losing a $800,000 capital commitment made by Councilman Sanders, RDRC spent the next 2 years raising additional capital and securing pro-bono design services. In 2010 RDRC was one of a dozen organizations that received a pro-bono project design services through a Citywide competition held by DesigNYC. DesigNYC partnered RDRC with WE Design, an urban landscaping architecture firmed by the team of Tricia Martin, RLA, LEED AP and Winston Ely, LEED AP. Over the next 2 years WE Design and RDRC conducted district surveys, listening and walking tours, researched archives about Downtown Far Rockaway that resulted in a comprehensive Downtown Far Rockaway design plan entitled,“With Pleasure: A Plan for Far Rockaways Future”. Ironically, WE Design and RDRC made its final presentation to the community exactly one month prior to Superstorm Sandy on September 29, 2012. The Plan was subsequently presented to the NYC Economic Development Corporation and NYC Department of Transportation and incorporated into its presentation to the Public Design Commission in late 2013. In 2014 the Beach 20th Street Plaza was approved for renovations along with an additional $800,000 raised by RDRC to complete the project as designed. In December 2015 the Plaza was completed and since has become Downtown Rockaways town center. To activate the Plaza, RDRC in its role as Plaza Manager has hosting live concerts, tree lighting events, community health fairs, fashion shows and merchant fairs that have benefited over 10,000 on-lookers and participants.
Who would have ever imagined the renovation of pedestrian plaza could spur a $280 million urban renewal project two years later!
DOWNTOWN FAR ROCKAWAY REDEVELOPMENT PROJECT
In Fall of 2016 Mayor Bill DeBlasio at the urging of NYC Councilman Donovan Richards and members of the Downtown Far Rockaway Working Group approved a comprehensive redevelopment of a 23-block area centered around Downtown Far Rockaway. The Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Plan originally received $91 million in public-private capital commitments that has since grown to $280 million and will include: updated rezoning; transportation upgrades new storm resistant infrastructure; new public spaces; streetscapes; park; library; commercial and community-use spaces; and new mixed-use and permanently affordable housing.
Public Wi-Fi Project
The Downtown Far Rockaway Public Wi-Fi Project was launched in 2016 in response to the devastating impact of Superstorm Sandy on the Rockaways inability to communicate with concerned family members, emergency services and disaster relief organizations. In the most critical period immediately after Superstorm Sandy, the Rockaways was isolated from the rest of New York City with no way of communication – Internet, cell phone or landline. The Public Wi-Fi Project will enable anyone entering the District with an Internet capable cell phone or tablet free access to Internet without the use of satellites or cell towers by installing a series of wireless routers and rooftop antennas at local businesses and organizations. An added benefit of the Project is that provided an opportunity to train seven local residents to build, install and maintain the Wi-Fi network.
The Downtown Far Rockaway Public Wi-Fi Project is funded by the NYC Economic Development Corporation and New America. If you would like to see a video clip provided by NY1, cut and paste this link into your browser:
Downtown Far Rockaway represents the largest concentration of retail and businesses throughout the Rockaways. The 22-block area that constitutes Downtown Far Rockaway includes over 280+ businesses and a growing health care presence that is now referred to as the Rockaway’s Medical Row.
Prior to Superstorm Sandy, RDRC with the support of the NYC Small Business Services made several attempts to organize and establish a merchants association focused on improving the physical conditions as well as the quality of consumer shopping experience to reduce the significant retail loss to neighboring downtown shopping and business districts. With over 250 retail shops, food establishments and business services located in Downtown Far Rockaway combined with accessibility by subway, bus and train to all points on and off the peninsula, RDRC has focused much of its attention on the revitalization of Downtown Far Rockaway. Clearly, with the support of our locally elected officials and City government, the future of Downtown Far Rockaway is looking brighter than ever!
RDRC began to concentrate its efforts in revitalizing REMA. In 2013, RDRC hired a dedicated merchant organizer to coordinate merchant meetings, recruit new members and create the groundwork for a well-organized merchants association to address the needs of local business owners, collectively.
After several years of hard work, REMA members held its first membership election in 2016. Soon after, the leadership of REMA with the assistance of RDRC grew its paid membership to 40 members, hosted a successful Merchants Fair & Fashion Show, co-sponsored a series of community events that included a Back-to-School Give-A-Way Event, Turkey Give-A-Way Day, Annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony and played a key role in the announced $91 million Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Plan announced by Mayor DeBlasio in the Fall of 2016.
If you would like to become a member of REMA, click here. Completed applications can be emailed to the attention of REMA at email@example.com, or mailed to:
Rockaway East Merchants Association
1032 Beach 20th Street
Far Rockaway, NY 11691
Downtown Far Rockaway Storefront Improvement Program
In late FY2016, NYC Councilman Donovan Richards, NYC Small Business Services, NYC Economic Development Corporation and RDRC announced the Downtown Far Rockaway Storefront Improvement Program. The goal Program was to provide competitively selected ground floor businesses (and property owners) with matching grants of up to $7,500 to make repairs to their storefronts. In addition to providing matching grants, the Program provided free professional architectural services to each of the selected grantees.
The Storefront Improvement Program was managed by RDRC and resulted in eighteen (18) storefronts receiving matching grants to repair worn or damaged facades, install new signage and awnings, decorative accent lighting and install mesh role down gates.
RDRC works with local realtors and property owners to attract new businesses into Downtown Far Rockaway. To keep commercial space vacancies low, RDRC developed a business attraction tool kit that includes pertinent market retail data, and Census data such as population trends and density, median income, and other key demographic information. We also post property owner and/or realtor information regarding vacancies in our electronic newsletter and group emails that reach several thousand contacts.
Downtown Far Rockaway Commercial District Needs Assessment
RDRC and the Rockaway East Merchants Association (REMA) are currently working on a comprehensive study of Downtown Far Rockaway that will be released in the Summer of 2019. The Commercial District Needs Assessment is a comprehensive tool used to collect information about the Downtown Far Rockaway Business District. The purpose of the Report is assess the current condition of the District, gauge opinions about the District through the use of consumer and business surveys, existing building and business conditions, and other pertinent information into a report that is helpful when attempting to identify the necessary mix of resources to assist local businesses, improve conditions within the District and what consumers/residents would like to experience within the District.
The study is being funded by the New York City Department of Small Business Services and NYC City Councilman Donovan Richards and will be accessible through our website once finalized.