Hevesi garners aid for Rego Park commercial district

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A state-funded program to purge the Rego Park commercial district of rats, trash and general blight received a needed boost last week despite post-Sept. 11 budget cuts threatening its existence.

But waning private support, on which the nine-month old initiative’s future hinges, may nonetheless drive its demise within the year.

State Sen. Daniel Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) recently announced his success in securing an additional $37,440 in state aid for the non-profit Doe Fund, which pays for Rego Park’s “Ready, Willing and Able” program.

The money comes despite the disappearance of state dollars for most such local initiatives following September’s terrorist attacks, according to Hevesi.

And it comes in addition to another $10,000 secured earlier this year by state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), who has categorized more than half of his constituents’ complaints as related to sanitation issues.

The Rego Park program, which costs about $44,000 a year to maintain, enlists the help of two homeless men who each day sweep the area’s streets and empty its garbage cans. The men, who live in a Harlem shelter also renovated by the Doe Fund, receive counseling, life skills training and up to $6.50 an hour.

Hevesi, using state aid, joined with other elected officials, local merchants and the Doe Fund to start the program last July. It was expected to prove its worth and, in turn, attract the private sector support it would need to continue when the public money runs out this summer.

“Since its inception, the Doe Fund program has turned around the Rego park commercial area from a terrible mess to a clean and vibrant shopping strip,” Hevesi noted in a press release, which describes the area as having “long endured filthy streets and overflowing litter baskets.”

“It is in the best interest of the local merchants and the entire Rego Park business community,” Hevesi added, “to get together and contribute the necessary annual funding to ensure the continuity of this successful program.”

Apparently, it isn’t happening.

The state support “was a way to get the program started, hoping it would be so good that nobody would want to see it end,” said Jay Parker, president of the Rego Park Merchants Association and owner of Ben’s Best Deli.

Parker, whose association has taken a lead in the private fund-raising effort, agreed that “the general public shouldn’t be paying for this ” and that “it should be a private venture.”

“But,” he said, “I don’t know if we’ll be successful based on the amount of money that we’ve been able to raise.”

Parker said the association has so far pulled in about $6,000, including $3,500 generated through a January fund-raiser held at his deli, which is in addition to commitments of still more “thousands of dollars” from other local sources.

Nonetheless, he added, “I’m not a pessimist, but I don’t see how we can bridge the $35,000 difference that we’re looking for.”

Parker said he has canvassed the neighborhood, and is now turning to the area’s landlords. The program has enough money, he said, to last at least through its initial year, which ends in July. But beyond that, he isuncertain and said he may have a better idea “in a couple of weeks when I get the final numbers.”

“It’s a great program, I think every business in the community should be involved in it,” Parker said, mentioning how it resulted in the reduction to almost zero of the numerous merchant complaints he regularly received about constant fines and tickets by sanitation enforcement officials.

“I was somewhat shocked that some people just said out of hand, ‘No, we’re not doing it,’” Parker said. “I don’t want to see this thing go, but unless some people step up to the plate, there will be no answer.”

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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