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Planners have grand ideas for Corona Plaza’s future

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By creating an open space with plantings, designer park furniture and turn-of-the-century accents, planners want to transform the underused blocklong triangle of brick and trees adjacent to the 103rd Street subway station into a neighborhood gateway. They presented their ideas June 18 at Community Board 3's office on 37th Avenue.

The ultimate goal of this and another related design study is to link Corona to tourist destinations in surrounding areas such as Jackson Heights and Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

"There's a big push on tourism in Jackson Heights because it was designated a landmark," said Community Board 3 Chairman Richard Cecere. "Corona is now in a good position next to Flushing Meadow and because of 2012," New York's bid to host the summer Olympic games.

"You have to connect it to the other two," Cecere observed. "It's now Corona's turn."

The preliminary plans call for closing the southern end of the plaza to motor vehicles, which would increase open space for pedestrians, said Caterina Timpanaro, one of two Italian architects who came to the United States to work on the project in conjunction with Hunter College professor Tom Angotti.

A gathering area with space for open-air concerts would replace the fenced-off landscaping that occupies the center of the plaza. And benches, which local shopkeepers said were removed less than a year ago, would also be returned to the plaza's western end along with plantings and trees.

The design would seek to integrate the plaza into the fabric of the surrounding community by proceeding with bike lanes along Roosevelt Avenue and 111th Street as outlined by the New York City Bicycle Master Plan. Directional signs would also be installed to guide visitors to local tourist attractions such as the Louis Armstrong House and Corona's Lemon Ice King.

Timpanaro and fellow Italian Claudi Coccetti, who had to return to Italy before the presentation, worked on the design project as volunteers.

Their work comes in addition to another design project headed by Angotti run with students at Hunter College that examines the area as a whole. The results of both design studies will be packaged together and presented to Borough President Helen Marshall July 15.

Once the framework is approved, planners will solicit input from community members.

"The idea of the project is to stimulate the participatory process for all the Corona communities," Timpanaro said. "We tried to create an approach to Corona Plaza, a sense of belonging and a sense of responsibility."

To that end, the pair suggested inlaying arrows pointing to different Latin American capitals and Italian cities on the ground in the proposed central gathering area, which would replace a fenced-off area with trees.

Timpanaro and Coccetti also suggested encouraging buildings in the area adjacent to the plaza to adopt a color scheme that makes use of typical Latin American and Caribbean bright tones.

The open central area would prove more inviting to passengers descending from the elevated No. 7 line at the 103rd Station, ushering them through the plaza and toward the stores that line the plaza's southern edge, Timpanaro said.

The station itself would also undergo a major overhaul, with the installation of pigeon-control devices such as netting, spiked needle strips or ultrasound emitters. Among the more innovative plans for the subway station is a sound barrier that would double as a canvas for local graffiti artists to display their work.

"The graffiti can also be seen as a cultural action not just as an act of vandalism," Timpanaro said. "We can valorize graffiti."

Over the next few weeks Timpanaro and members of Community Boards 3 and 4, which cover Corona Plaza, will continue to tweak the project.

"This is a wonderful starting point and then we can open it up to people who want to participate," Cecere said of the project. "We have a concrete plan more than anybody has ever had."

It is too early to tell how much the project will cost, Cecere said, but he expects to secure money for at least some of the project through the borough president's office.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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