Far Rockaway Shopping Center set for revitalization with housing, retail

Far Rockaway's Shopping Center has had vacancies for decades.
Far Rockaway’s Shopping Center has had vacancies for decades. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

Far Rockaway’s biggest eyesore is finally getting the makeover it deserves.

The Far Rockaway Shopping Center, which has sat barren for decades, will be replaced with mixed-income housing, retail shops and a public plaza, officials are set to announce Wednesday.

The project, dubbed the Far Rockaway Village, includes almost 700 units of housing and 90,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, according to City Councilman Donovan Richards, who has worked for years on plans to revitalize the downtown area.

“No more false starts,” Richards told amNewYork on Tuesday. “This is a new day.”

The shopping center, known for its iconic blue sign on Mott Avenue, is a relic of 1960s retail, with its sprawling parking lot and ground-level storefronts. Despite its prime downtown location next to public transportation, the center has sat mostly vacant for decades with just a few merchants — including a Thriftway drugstore, supermarket and most recently a Dunkin’ Donuts — dotting the empty landscape.

“This is the first thing residents see when they get off the A train and it says people don’t care about us,” Richards said. “This was supposed to be the anchor of the community. This project is for people who live here, who have had to walk past that site all these years. It’s a great moment for Rockaway.”

The recent Rockaway rezoning paved the way for the development and investment of city funds in the neighborhood. Richards said he and city officials worked with local residents and community members to come up with a plan that will serve the community, provide housing and keep shoppers and their dollars in Rockaway.

Property owner Rita Stark, who inherited a vast collection of buildings in Queens, was known for resisting efforts to renovate and redevelop her sites — including the blighted shopping center.

Officials said in the months before her death in 2016, Stark seemed more interested in a new vision for the shopping center.

Sources said Phipps Houses, a nonprofit that creates affordable housing across the city, will develop the site through a lease with Mott Center LLC, which is part of Stark’s estate. The plan calls for Phipps to build the apartments, the public plaza and the retail space on Mott Avenue.

The first phase of construction will create almost 700 affordable units, with another 1,000 to be constructed in the future.

Mott Center LLC filed paperwork seeking permits from the city Buildings Department on Monday. Officials said the first phase is slated to be complete by 2021.

Once all construction is done, Stark’s estate will oversee the retail stores, while Phipps will manage the affordable units and public plaza.

Jonathan Gaska, district manager of the local community board, said he has looked out his office window at the shopping center for almost 30 years and been baffled about why it was not better used — despite repeated pleas by the board and other leaders.

“We have watched other areas of Queens get revitalized and good things happen after investment by government,” he said. “Finally the worm has turned for Far Rockaway.”