Throughout the long and torturous history of the current Second Ave. Subway project, the MTA’s community relations or lack thereof have come under fire. Residents, subject to the whims of negligent landlords, complain of building vibrations, noise, dust and constant construction while business owners bemoan the lost sidewalk space and street access. As the MTA responds to some of these complaints a few years too late, the business owners are getting ready to fight back.
The story as we know it tends to crop up every few months. In August, merchants claimed a 40-percent reduction in business, and earlier this month, The Times ran a sob story on businesses going under as the impact of construction ate away at the bottom line. A few weeks ago, I was less than sympathetic to those business owners who, knowing full well that the MTA was about to dig up the avenue, opened restaurants six months before Second Ave. Subway construction began.
Yet, despite my decidedly Spockian view on the transit needs of the many, the MTA has clearly not gone out of its way to help businesses. On the one hand, neither it nor the state has the money to make direct payments to suffering merchants, but on the other, construction crews work with little regard for the area around the site. This weekend, the authority announced a series of improvements designed to bolster business along Second Ave. These are, said MTA Capital Construction, part of a “good neighbor” initiative and include:
- Implementing way-finding signage for stores that is uniform, legible and clean
- Ensuring sidewalks are in good condition without holes, cracks, and trip hazards
- Replace bent/worn fencing
- Painting all barriers
- Maintaining sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe sight lines for pedestrians/vehicles
- Maintaining full access to businesses/residences
The Post noted that Capital Construction vowed to keep construction areas free of garbage and that the authority will continue to maintain a website explaining where construction will be at its worst. “These are simple things that will make people happy, so people can actually be in that area and not hate every day they live there,” Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTACC, said to Tom Namako.
While the MTA decided to act on years of complaints, the Second Ave. Business Association, supported by attorney and failed Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel, hosted a rally on Sunday. Now claiming that business is down by 70 percent, the businesses want action of any kind from the state. Ben Heckscher from The Launch Box was on hand, and he offered up a few photos of the rally. Take a look:
Despite the small crowds, the speakers were passionate, and the rally has garnered significant press coverage — CBS News, The Post, DNA Info, NY1. The story too makes for a good David vs. Goliath narrative. These business owners have indeed been jerked around by the MTA, and they’re right to note that the authority originally said in 2007 that Phase 1 would wrap by 2013. Today, we’ll be lucky if the MTA finishes up this four-station extension of the Q by the end of 2016.
“It’s been three and a half years of the construction pretty much destroying our neighborhood, destroying our way of life doing business and destroying the quality of life for people living here and we’ve basically had enough, it’s just too hard,” Marcelo Ronchini, owner of Nina’s Pizzeria, said.
Time and again, these business owners have asked the city for tax breaks, and when those did not materialize, they’ve asked the MTA and state for direct financial contributions. This weekend, Siegel even threatened to sue — a proceeding bound to cause even more slowdowns along Second Ave. “Some of these businesses have put all their life savings into the mom and pop stores. So what we want is for legislation to provide for financial assistance for the businesses on Second Avenue. If that doesn’t happen we’ll have to give serious consideration to going to court,” said Civil Rights Attorney Norman Siegel.
As construction drags on, it’s clear that something has to happen. The MTA has mired Second Ave. in fences, dust, noise and reduced sidewalk space for nearly 42 months now, and the project won’t finish for at least another 72. While the empty store fronts along Second Ave. will quickly fill up once the subway reaches 96th St., for now, the work is stealing vitality from a neighborhood. Still, the MTA can’t just stop work, and the business owners can’t simply be bought out. I want to say what I’ve said all along — the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few — but someone should figure out a way to protect the needs of the few as well.