BY JON CRONIN
Undaunted Forest Hills residents looking forward to getting into the holiday spirit are cheering the news that there will be holiday lights on Austin Street this year following a recent announcement that they had been canceled.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) swooped in at the last minute to announce that she had allocated funds from a street-cleaning program funded by Madison House, the concert production company behind the Forest Hills Stadium concerts.
Koslowitz said that she heard the concerns of her constituents on social media and called Madison House to ask if she could use the extra money from the cleaning program to fund the holiday lights on Austin Street.
Leslie Brown, the president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said that prior to Koslowitz’s Nov. 8 announcement, her efforts to reach out to local shop and property owners to fund the holiday lights had only received two responses amounting to less than $200.
Instead, the chamber had planned a more cost-effective Christmas banner program that Brown hoped would be displayed by Thanksgiving.
Regarding a GoFundMe campaign for the lights by Forest Hills Resident Cat Rakowski, Brown said that she wished she had been contacted before the campaign had been posted. She added that she believed the effort “created a lot of division and animosity.”
The GoFundMe page titled “Bring Back Forest Hills Lights” was created on Oct. 31 and garnered 31 donations in six days, amounting to $875 toward a $5,000 goal.
Cat Rakowski posted on Facebook on Friday that “donations may be given to a local charity,” adding that those who donated and preferred a refund should contact her directly.
“I got involved because I, like so many in Forest Hills, was disappointed the lights wouldn’t be up,” Rakowski had told the Queens Tribune prior to the news that the GoFundMe campaign could not be utilized. “I’m a producer. I like to solve problems, and this seemed like a problem we could solve as a community.”
Brown noted that every year, she has raised $15,000 to $16,000 for the holiday lights program. Previously, she said that there had been a two-year contract for the lights. She added that the chamber’s largest contributor to the holiday lights fund had pulled out since no other shops or property owners were contributing.
The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce will host its Celebrate Winter Event on Nov. 27 on 71st Road between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. She said that the chamber will put a tent over the entire block and host live music, a fashion show, treats from Forest Hills restaurants and much more.
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.