NEW YORK—Second Avenue shop owners and area residents gathered at 91st Street on Sunday afternoon to protest the prolonged Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) construction project and the impact it has had on their neighborhood. Construction for two new subway lines running through Second Avenue in Manhattan started in April 2007. The current tentative completion date is slated for 2017.
“It has taken the MTA two years to realize that they need us more than we need them,” said Joe Picora, Second Avenue Business Association leader. “Completion is in seven years. We need to minimize the impact on the local businesses and maximize all communication. We’re all in this together.”
Attorney Norman Siegel said that the community is asking for legislation that would allow Second Avenue businesses to receive financial assistance, a real estate tax abatement, a sales-tax-free area, improved sanitary conditions, and more accessibility to the stores.
“The construction of the Second Avenue subway was supposed to be completed in 2013. Now the MTA says it will not be finished until 2017,” Siegel said, adding that per his conversation with someone from the federal government, this date may potentially be pushed out even further to 2018.
The Second Avenue construction consists of four phases, which may overlap in construction dates. Phase One covers 72nd to 105th streets and the 63rd Street tunnel that will run from Second Avenue to Lexington. Phase Two encompasses the area between 105th and 125th streets. Phase Three includes the space between Houston and 72nd streets, and Phase Four covers Houston Street to Hanover Square.
Businesses and Residents Suffer
“This delay is a nightmare for the businesses and the residents,” Siegel said. “The conditions associated with the construction—the delay, the noise, the dust, the obstructed sidewalks—have had a negative impact on the businesses and the residents.”
Siegel noted that 31 businesses between 63rd and 96th streets have gone out of business, and that the income of the remaining businesses has been reduced by almost half.
Café owner and long-time resident Peter Yu said that the extent of assistance from the MTA and government agencies thus far has just included putting up a few signs behind chain-linked fences. He also noted that construction has had a negative impact on the safety of the neighborhood.
“At night when I walk my own dog, as a business owner on Second Avenue, I will actually avoid Second Avenue,” he said. “It’s become such an unsafe place.”
Yu pointed out a safety camera across the street that was obstructed by a pole because of the construction.
“It does not pick up anything in that obstructed area,” he said, noting that the block near the corner of the 91st Street was completely covered from view. “And that obstructed area has become a haven for people with bad intentions.”
Another resident noted an additional safety concern: Since there is a middle school nearby, children have to walk near the construction sites every day.
“Bloomberg is actually going out of his way not to help us,” said Marcelo Ronchini, a shop owner on Second Avenue and the organizer of the rally.
Ronchini mentioned that Bloomberg opposed the real estate tax evasion proposed by their community.
“We did ask [Congresswoman] Carolyn Maloney to step up. She pushed for this project to start here, and we haven’t really gotten any help from her,” he said.
Siegel added that litigation is time and money-consuming and thus not the preferred route of action, but that the MTA and government agencies need to provide financial assistance to these businesses.
“If action is not taken, we will need to give serious consideration to litigation,” Siegel said. “If the construction has been necessarily or unreasonably delayed, then the businesses can recover damages.”