Get rid of solid gates. Remove graffiti. And, provide a new identity that shoppers will find appealing. Those are the cardinal points of a new plan to revitalize Church Avenue that is being developed by the Erasmus Neighborhood Federation (ENF). Yves Vilus, the executive director of ENF, said that the group had received a five-year grant for fiscal years 2007 to 2011, to create a new identity for area shopping strips, specifically Church Avenue between Rogers and Utica Avenues, and Nostrand Avenue between Linden Boulevard and Snyder Avenue. Approximately 345 merchants have businesses in the area, said Vilus. For FY 2007, the grant is $91,000, though, Vilus said, it will decrease every year for the life of the grant. The shopping area will be designated, The Caribbean Heart and Soul of Brooklyn, Vilus said. We want to let not only Brooklyn, but the whole world, know that East Flatbush is the center for Caribbean food, art and everything Caribbean. Banners will go up reinforcing the theme, said Vilus, who pointed out that street corner trash cans already carry the label of ENF. The group also plans to create a merchants guide, and hold street fairs and festivals, To market the area, Vilus said. The goal, he stressed, is to get, People to come to see what the area is like. Besides aesthetic changes to the shopping strips, ENF is also planning to hold workshops and seminars for neighborhood merchants on a wide range of subjects, from marketing to security, Vilus said. ENF, he added, also will be working with businesses on storefront improvements, such as new awnings and see-through (as opposed to solid) gates. We received a grant from Small Business Services (SBS) to help provide them with this, Vilus explained. SBS, he said, will provide three-to-one matching funds for work that meets their criteria. Jennifer Blanco, community revitalization manager of ENF, said that her task is, Trying to get the interest of the merchants. We are trying to make Church Avenue a place where everyone can come and feel comfortable about shopping, and we want the merchants to be partners in this effort. Blanco, who will be conducting a short survey among business owners, also said that ENF is, Trying to do sanitation, trying to do graffiti cleaning. When people see the solid gates and vandalism, they feel the area is unsafe. We dont want the area to look unsafe. We want the merchant area to look nice, so that customers can say this is a great place to come and shop, where I can get what I need, so we can make the community a better place, Blanco added. ENF is also looking to the future. To that end, said Vilus, the organization is taking the first steps toward establishing a Business Improvement District (BID) on Church Avenue, between Rogers and Utica. A BID is a public-private partnership where property owners and merchants agree to tax themselves to provide services in excess of those which are provided by the city. BIDs frequently provide supplemental sanitation services, graffiti removal, holiday lighting and marketing, as well as work to fill vacant storefronts in a timely fashion. We are working with SBS, noted Vilus, who acknowledged, We have a long way to go. Among the hurdles ahead of them, he said, is getting the support of national corporations that have stores along the strip.
©2007 Community News Group
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