A group of business owners who decried the 37th Road pedestrian plaza in Jackson Heights after it opened have come around and launched a group to act as stewards of the new public space. This turn of events comes after persistent work by Council Member Danny Dromm’s office and local merchants, who are now working together to ensure the plaza is a long-term success. The plaza’s undeniable popularity as a gathering place also hasn’t hurt.
A few months ago, Internet Café owner Agha Saleh and Bombay Chat café owner Shazia Kausar were two of the business owners unhappy with the new plaza. Saleh was quoted in the New York Times saying that it had contributed to crime in the neighborhood, while Kausar told the Times Ledger that soon after the plaza opened in October 2011, her business had dropped and she was having trouble paying employees.
Citing a “gap of communication” between business owners, DOT, and plaza supporters when the project was implemented, Saleh credited months of work by Dromm’s office and DOT to address the business owners’ concerns. “We’re really proud that we brought people on board,” Saleh said.
Now, Saleh and Kausar are working with adjacent business owners to create a new group called Sukhi NY, which will manage what is being called Diversity Plaza. “Sukhi” is an acronym for Social Uplift Knowledge and Hope Initiatives; it also translates from Urdu, Hindi and other languages as “prosperity and happiness.” Council Member Dromm, whose office had until now been coordinating plaza upkeep, joined Saleh and Kausar at an event on the plaza last Friday to announce the formation of Sukhi NY, which is still in its formative stages. Official approval by DOT as a plaza partner is expected to come in September. In the meantime, the organization is kicking off its stewardship of the plaza by hosting a festival that ends today, marking the end of Muslim holy month Ramadan.
“This plaza can benefit the stakeholders who depend on this place for their livelihood,” Saleh said.