Roberto Clemente Plaza faces more delays

The  Roberto Clemente Plaza construction site.

The Roberto Clemente Plaza construction site.

Thirteen years in the works, Hub site is still many months away

Businesses already fed up with drug users who loiter around the unfinished Roberto Clemente Plaza construction site in the Hub will have to wait at least another year before the city completes the project. According to the NYC Department of Design and Construction, the project—originally intended to end this fall—will drag through the winter.

Business leaders say the construction eyesore and the drug users have driven away customers in the heart of Mott Haven’s commercial district, and they are eager to see the plaza finished, which, they hope, will help disperse the loiterers. Community organizations are proposing alternative solutions to keep the area safe while construction is stalled.

Before the streets were torn up, “a lot of people passed by,” said Kim Ye, a store manager of Willis Fashion on Willis Avenue. Now, she said, “too many people sit around and make this area look dangerous. It’s hurting the business.”

The city first proposed constructing the plaza 13 years ago, but a series of delays has continually frustrated businesses and residents.

“Nowhere else in the city of New York would these types of delays in construction be tolerated,” said Michael Brady, director of special projects and governmental relations at SoBRO, the Mott Haven community development organization that has worked for over a decade to help see the project through.

Plans for the plaza were first presented in 2003. After years of planning and research, the design and construction dept. assigned the $12.86 million project to Trocom Construction Corp. But although work was finally scheduled to start last year, contract and financing disputes have held it back. Trocom did not respond to requests for comment.

Steven Fish, executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District, says the holdups have led to a 50 percent drop in business.

“If I had a store over there I’d be fuming,” Fish said. “They’ve been promised and promised, ‘oh it’s going be done next year, it’s going be done in six months, it’s going be done in seven months.’ You’re a store owner and you make a living, but you can’t make a good living with all the interruptions.”

SoBRO says it is working to keep the area as safe and clean as possible, and that it aims to increase community programming around the Hub to discourage illegal activity and other nuisances. Among other events, the group plans to hold a donation drive for the Immaculate Conception Church of Melrose’s Thanksgiving dinner. Additionally, SoBRO officials say they will continue to partner with other local faith-based organizations on future events, and will establish pop-up concessions next spring and summer.

“We can’t change construction,” Brady said. “If I had a billion dollars, I’d probably have the plaza done next week, but we have to be realistic in what we can do for the community.”

Laura Hansen, managing director of nonprofit group The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership, which has created pop-up shops in the Hub in recent years, said holiday events and fundraisers for local groups has proven to be an effective way of eliminating unlawful behavior in other New York City plaza projects.

“The more programming you have, it does deter that behavior,” Hansen said “That becomes a space that a lot of people take ownership of and see as a community space. The plazas that work the best are the ones that have the most partnerships.”

Performances and block parties are planned for the plaza will be accompanied by smaller events, such as concessions within a three-block radius, Brady said, adding that police presence will be plentiful.

Despite their frustration, merchants and employees along Willis Ave. remain hopeful for a more attractive public space when the plaza is finally done.

“Everything is possible, they just got to get this finished,” said Osiris Valle, another Willis Fashion employee. “We want to see the rainbow at the end of the tunnel.”