An artist's rendering of the new medians and street lights to be installed along portions of Bay Street and Richmond Terrace, St. George. The rendering appears to show the street scene looking northwest along Richmond Terrace as it bears left between Hamilton Avenue and Stuyvesant Place. (Image taken from St. George: Gateway to Staten Island, published by the borough president's office.)
UPDATE ON SIX LOCAL PROJECTS
The Staten Island borough president and I may not agree on much in abstract political terms, but we do agree on this: Capital improvements to infrastructure and investment in landscaping, lighting and other amenities make people feel good about where they live.
Does that mean people will vote for the borough presidential candidate who claims credit for those improvements? Maybe. But the improvements, to me at least, matter more than the motivation for undertaking them.
Included in a recent mailing addressed to St. George residents, Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro provided an "update . . . on several important initiatives in the St. George area":
1. New lights and medians on portions of Bay Street and Richmond Terrace. Project now out for bids.
2. $700,000 in capital improvements for the St. George Library Center.
3. Contractor selected for construction of tourist information kiosk in the St. George ferry terminal.
4. Three new retailers for St. George ferry terminal; three in negotiation.
5. Capital funds secured, design work going forward for new marquee and technical equipment for the St. George Theatre.
6. Construction of new Richmond County courthouse underway at a site bounded by Central Avenue, Hyatt Street and St. Marks Place; scheduled for completion in 2011.
Though larger storefronts on Bay Street and lower Victory Boulevard sit empty month after month, Stuyvesant Place stores don't stay vacant long.
What next? A second pizzeria?
A third laundromat?
When a Dominican hair salon moved from a Stuyvesant Place to a Westervelt Avenue storefront not long ago, the place was promptly snapped up by a deli. Say what?
Fat chance they have, competing for tiny margins against two other Stuyvesant Place delis. One of these, the long-established Charmar at the southeast corner of Wall Street, is a veritable Gourmet Garage compared to any other grocery store within walking distance. How long will the new deli last? Months? A year, maybe?
NEEDED RIGHT NOW:
A RETAIL DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR ST. GEORGE
It's long past time for business organizations or officialdom--the Staten Island EDC?, the borough president's office?, the Chamber of Commerce?--to fund a retail/commercial development study and move forward on its recommendations.
The alternative is to sit passively by, while individual landlords make individual short-term decisions that result in short-term commercial tenancies. There's still no coordinated view of a retail future for St. George, so we're left with a string of third-rate retail options we patronize only because there's nothing better. Tourists who walk up the hill may not even bother.
It's self-defeating, for the property owners and the neighborhood, to simply accept any occupant who can pay the rent, when there's an opportunity to attract the mix of businesses that a commercial center, a government center, a legal center, a transportation and tourist hub, an arts and entertainment center and a residential neighborhood have the potential to support and sustain.
NOT MORE STRIP MALLS
As we learned in the recent financial downturn--as if we had to learn it yet again--decisions based on short-term thinking are often self-defeating. We need a long-term retail development strategy based on research and objective data. And we need it now, to prepare for the occupants of all those residential units, existing and projected, being built nearby. Is anybody in charge thinking about this?
We can't let developers do our planning for us. A suburban-style strip mall, like the one now nearing completion on most of a lot bounded by Bay Street, Grant Street, Van Duzer Street and St. Julian Place in Tompkinsville is an off-the-shelf solution that promotes more driving, more congestion, more pollution.
Fortunately, the new St. George zoning promotes walking, not parking; strip malls are strictly verboten. St. George--Staten Island's most walkable neighborhood--needs walkable shopping and services, and in sufficient quantity and variety that people aren't forced to own cars.
AND MAYBE JOE & PAT, TOO
On the first Art by the Ferry day, as I was passing a vacant storefront--one of six in the building known as 100 Stuyvesant Place--I noticed some activity behind the brown kraft paper covering the entry door and windows.
When I stuck my head in the door, the new occupant told me he's opening a Cajun restaurant there very soon. He said he hopes to be able to keep the restaurant open in the evenings.
[NOTE: When I returned more recently and inspected more closely, the space looked too small to accommodate more than a limited number of customers. This suggests breakfast and lunch, not dinner, but we'll have to wait and see.]
Joe & Pat's II? There's also been construction activity lately at the long vacant, plywood- covered mystery bar on Bay Street near Slosson Terrace. And the other day, through a source I deem both informed and reliable, I was told that Joe & Pat's, now on Victory Boulevard near Manor Road in Castleton Corners, will be opening a second restaurant in this large storefront some time in the coming months.
If it's true, this is very good news. Joe & Pat's is one of the best moderately-priced Italian restaurants on the island. At the Castleton Corners location, they have both a self-service/takeout counter with bistro tables and a separate full-service dining room. If the St. George version is anything like the original Joe & Pat's, it'll be clean and professionally run--another place to go for a well prepared meal without having to leave the nabe.
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