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Jax Hts making peace with plaza

Some borough residents are enjoying the Jackson Heights Pedestrian Plaza, but some stores, such as the closing Jessi Emporium, are still struggling.
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Ever since 37th Road between 73rd and 74th streets was closed and the bus routes that went down it were moved last fall to create a plaza, detractors have complained that the redesign has driven away business and new park has gone unused.

Yet the warmer months have brought people to the plaza. On recent trips to the spot, TimesLedger Newspapers has observed many people sitting at the tables talking or resting on large stones. Sometimes all the seats had been taken by those enjoying the controversial plaza.

“It’s wonderful for us,” said Sonam Phuntso, a Sunnyside resident who was at the plaza last week. “It gives us a good place to sit and talk about everything under the sun.”

The plaza was built after the city Department of Transportation held an extensive study of Jackson Heights to address transportation issues. In response to what the department found and heard from residents, the DOT closed the block on 37th Road to create open space and moved the Q47 and Q49 bus lines to 75th Street.

Soon after the closure, merchants said profits from their businesses fell by 50 percent or more.

The plaza also has been the scene of some violent incidents.

Queens Supreme Court Judge Thomas Raffaele, who had spoken out against the plaza, was allegedly assaulted by a police officer at the plaza earlier this month. Raffaele thought the officer was unduly hurting a suspect in the course of an arrest. A shot was fired in an unrelated incident in the plaza some time later.

Yet Shazia Kausar, owner of the cafe Bombay Chat, said despite the incidents the public’s overall view of the plaza is better.

“Before it was very bad,” Kausar said. “Now people are coming out more because it is the summertime.”

Woodside resident Tsering Dhondup said the plaza had become a meeting place for him and his friends.

“When people don’t have a holiday, they come here and discuss with different people,” Dhondup said.

Yet some store owners are still struggling.

Pinki Khan, an employee of sari store Jessi Emporium said the business was not going well and the owner, who lives in Long Island, was planning to close.

Agha Saleh, who owns an Internet cafe, said the plaza has brought out homeless people. Many homeless people sleep in the plaza at night, but he said the shop owners should give the plaza about a year or a year and a half to figure out if the park is a benefit as well as act in partnership with the elected officials and law enforcement.

“We cannot say it is a wonderful thing at this moment,” Saleh said. “It is still in progress.”

Kazi Fouzia, an organizer for Desis Rising Up and Moving, said she was not comfortable with the complaints about the homeless and that it would be unfair to say they should not have a place to sit.

But she said the pedestrian plaza was a nice park for the neighborhood.

“People love this area,” she said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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