BY JON CRONIN
Kew Gardens shop owners concerned about a Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan that would demolish their stores to rebuild the Lefferts Boulevard bridge have found an ally in Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Nathalie Reid, the owner of Thyme Natural Market on Lefferts Boulevard, told the mayor during a town hall he held on May 8 in Rego Park that the store owners have made little progress during the past seven years when dealing with the MTA, which owns the property, and Zee N Kay, which manages it.
“It’s a bit of an emotional story,” she told the mayor. “It is in great disrepair [and] gotten worse in the last seven to 10 years.”
Reid and seven other owners have shops on a bridge at Lefferts Boulevard that spans Kew Gardens’ Long Island Rail Road stop from above.
She said that during a recent meeting with the MTA and property manager, MTA representatives said that an assessment of the bridge has been completed and that the structure would have to be torn down, along with the businesses located on it. The MTA has yet to give a timeline as to when this could happen.
“There’s been a lot of sleepless nights,” Reid said, adding that business owners wonder day by day whether the MTA’s plan would force their businesses to go under. “People are losing their livelihood.”
The MTA clarified that there are three structures in the area—the central structure, owned by the NYC DOT, is a bridge that supports the roadway and is not part of this discussion. The two platforms on either side of the roadway are owned by the LIRR and support the businesses. The buildings on those platforms are owned by the LIRR and leased to a master tenant, who subleases space to neighborhood retailers. The MTA informed the master tenant that due to the repairs needed to those structures, the lease would not be renewed in 2020.
“We’re committed to working with the community to find the best possible outcome for this location,” said Aaron Donovan, an MTA spokesman.
But the shop owners said that the only person, so far, to take up their cause has been Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). During his town hall, the mayor said that he sided with the business owners.
“I am well briefed on this situation by the council member,” de Blasio said. “It seems to be absolutely unfair.”
However, he noted that he can only appoint two seats on the MTA board.
“We can still use our seats to act on your behalf,” he said, pointing out representatives from the city’s Small Business Services and Department of Transportation who were in attendance. “This is your team. I know tearing down the bridge would destroy your businesses and I don’t like that.”
After the meeting, Reid called the discussion “really positive” and said that it had put her “mind at ease.” She said that lawyers from Small Business Services told her that they were going to look at the businesses’ leases and that engineers from the DOT would come to make their own assessments at the property. The stores’ leases end in 2020.
Members of the community have set up a petition at www.savekewgardens.com to help the businesses stay in their locations.