BY JOE MARVILLI
Borough President Helen Marshall gave her State of the Borough address on Tuesday, the final one of her tenure.
Speaking at Queens College’s Colden Auditorium to a packed house of politicians, community leaders and Queens residents, Marshall touched on everything that happened over the course of the last 12 months in the Borough, including construction projects, education and Superstorm Sandy.
She was introduced to the stage by QC President Dr. James Muyskens and Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Though most of the event was made up by her speech, there were a few musical interludes from the Louis Armstrong Middle School Senior Chorus and Band.
Given that it was Marshall’s final address, much of her speech discussed what her office had done since 2002 to improve Queens. She also spent just as much time looking forward at upcoming projects and upgrades expected to be carried out in 2013.
Post-Sandy Marshall began her State of the Borough address by speaking at length about Superstorm Sandy, both the devastation it wrought and the recovery effort currently underway.
Particularly, she dedicated the address to the memory and spirit of Dylan Smith, a Belle Harbor resident and surfer, who helped to rescue six people using a homemade rope bridge and his surfboard during the massive fire that destroyed dozens of homes the night Superstorm Sandy hit. Smith drowned in late December off the coast of Puerto Rico.
“He was the good neighbor we all want in times of trouble, a lifeguard and angel of mercy,” she said. The Borough President used the tribute to announce a $10,000 grant in Dylan Smith’s name to the Swim Strong Foundation, which promotes healthy lifestyles for children on the Rockaway Peninsula.
Her speech was followed by a photo presentation of both the catastrophe and the ongoing recovery. It was followed by the Louis Armstrong Chorus performing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.
Marshall also praised Michael McDonnell, a Belle Harbor resident, for his heroic efforts during the storm. McDonnell used a makeshift rope to help seven people outrun the flooding and fire. He was invited to the stage to say a few words.
“People have called me a hero that night for what I had done. But I’m no hero. Rather, I was just determined and focused,” he said. “The truth is, lifelines have been made in Belle Harbor every day since that storm. Not from wires, extension cords, twine, but from the generosity, kindness and concerns of others. Belle Harbor can and will be restored.”
Then and Now Much of Marshall’s address dealt with the continued growth and improvement Queens has seen over the last decade, along with plans to keep the borough growing strong in the future.
Rezoning has been one of the biggest undertakings Marshall took on during her reign. The zoning layout of 2002 jeopardized Queens’ character and construction efforts. Together with the Department of City Planning Queens Director John Young and the City Council, more than 6,300 blocks in the Borough have been rezoned since then.
Plans are underway for another 1,000 blocks to be rezoned this year, including those in Bellerose, Floral Park and East Elmhurst. Once this effort is complete, almost half of the entire borough will have been rezoned during Marshall’s run.
This rezoning has helped certain neighborhoods of Queens achieve immense growth over the last several years, such as Long Island City. JetBlue and the City Dept. of Health both now have headquarters in the area. The CUNY Law School has also moved to LIC.
“This is happening when companies like Google and Facebook are expanding their footprints in our City,” the Borough President said.
To continue this tech boom into the future, Marshall’s office will develop a plan to create a “Tech Zone” on the Queens side of the East River. The B.P. office was just awarded a $150,000 state grant to put together strategies for waterfront revitalization that will support tech innovation in the Borough.
Jamaica is another neighborhood where significant growth is underway. Marshall’s office provided $3 million to construct the Atlantic Avenue Extension Gateway Park. A 200-capacity sit-down restaurant will open in the former Queens Family Courthouse found on Parsons Boulevard and 89th Avenue. In addition, the completed Sutphin Underpass, which won a Queens Chamber of Commerce Building Award this month, will gain its first tenant, a Visitors’ Center for Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.
Moving on to education, Marshall looked back at her time as an advocate for public schools. During her tenure, the borough president opened 60 new school buildings in Queens with more than 28,000 new seats. This September, another six schools with 3,000 seats will open as well.
“I know that every child deserves a seat in a class where class size matters,” she said.
Marshall also mentioned that the City’s schools need to provide a link to the growing economic sectors of math, science, technology and engineering. She announced that over the next year, her office will earmark $2 million to purchase mobile science labs for every one of the 30 Queens schools that do not currently have them.
In terms of CUNY, more than $63 million throughout the CUNY institutes during Marshall’s tenure. This money helped projects like the renovation of Colden Auditorium, new science labs at Queens and York College, a new library at LaGuardia Community College and support for the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College.
The Queens Library branches saw major changes during the last decade as half of them have been completely remodeled or renovated. In terms of future projects, 2013 will see the groundbreaking for a replacement library on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway, an expansion of the East Elmhurst Library and a new state-of-the-art branch in Elmhurst. Construction will also begin this year on a new Hunters Point library and an expanded Kew Gardens Hills Library. A new library in Glen Oaks is scheduled to open this year.
The new year will also see more plans in the Borough’s parks move forward. A new Environmental Center in Idlewild Park in Southeast Queens and a new facility for the Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston are both set to be worked on.
While Marshall was looking forward to this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star game at Citifield, she was more cautious about the expansion of the United States Tennis Association and the possibility of a Major League Soccer Stadium at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
“I will keep the message front and center that this park is one of the most heavily used open space in the City,” she said. “This green space is a precious resource.”
In terms of housing, 2013 will see the completion of affordable housing facilities for families and seniors, which includes Macedonia Plaza and Calvary Grandparent Residence, the latter of which is an intergenerational residence for grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren.
To end her last State of the Borough address, Marshall thanked her family and the people Queens for their support during her administration and expressed her confidence in the Borough’s future.
“Let us all use this year of hope to resolve that through sheer determination and good old Queens grit that we will build a better and safer future for our families and our communities,” she concluded.
Reach Reporter Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127 or at jmarvilli@queenstribune.