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‘A true visionary’: Street co-naming honors late founder of Arverne By The Sea

Jul. 17, 2023 By John Schilling

Elected officials and local leaders gathered together on Beach 73rd Street in Arverne on July 10 for a street co-naming ceremony honoring Alvin Benjamin, the man behind the Arverne By The Sea oceanfront community that first opened on the eastern half of the Rockaway peninsula in 2004. 

Remembered as a “wonderful individual” who prioritized actions over words, Benjamin died on May 10, 2012, at 92 years old, never getting to see the full completion of his vision as Arverne By The Sea’s development remains ongoing with construction on the community’s promised Challenge Prep Charter School set to open next summer.

“Alvin was a true visionary,” Arverne by the Sea Project Executive Gerry Romski said. “It really came out wonderful. It’s continuing to be developed … but it really worked out special for everyone, including everyone in New York City.”

Elected officials and local leaders gathered together on Beach 73rd Street in Arverne last Monday for a street co-naming ceremony honoring Alvin Benjamin, the man behind the Arverne By The Sea oceanfront community.Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

Benjamin came up with the plan for Arverne By The Sea in 2001 after 40+ years in the real estate business with The Benjamin Companies, which he founded in the early 1960s. When it came to developing his vision, Benjamin approached Beechwood Homes CEO Michael Dubb with the idea, something he was initially skeptical about.

After seeing Arverne, which was nothing but “barren land” at the time, Dubb worked with Benjamin to submit a proposal to the city with their vision for the area. 

“We were fortunate enough to be selected,” Dubb recalled. “I was so happy to be involved with Al Benjamin because I knew what kind of man he was. I knew what kind of vision he had.”

Beechwood Homes CEO Michael Dubb recalls working with Benjamin on Arverne By The Sea.Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

In 2002, work on Arverne By The Sea broke ground from Beach 62nd to Beach 74th Street. By 2004, people started to move into the new community’s housing units and commercial spaces would start to open up in the years that followed. 

During the construction period, however, some remained skeptical about Arverne By The Sea’s potential, something the area’s former assemblywoman and current Queens County Clerk Audrey Pheffer admits.

“We looked at it with a little bit of question because we were disappointed so many times, but it was something different; it was really something,” Pheffer said. “When we saw what it actually materialized … we couldn’t believe it. It was a dream. It was really a dream.”

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato also shared her mother’s initial doubt, adding that Benjamin’s persistence, despite the naysayers, is a significant part of the legacy he leaves behind.

“He followed through when people were negative and didn’t want it and that’s what we live on,” Pheffer Amato said. “So for the next steps of Rockaway, we’re taking those lessons and holding our ground for what … is owed to us and what we deserve.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a longtime Rockaway resident, admitted his own doubt as well, recalling how he used to believe “nothing” could ever happen when it came to developing the area.

“Nothing really happened and then we had Arverne By The Sea and Alvin Benjamin, who really was before his time,” said Meeks, whose Rockaway district office is located in the development. “This whole place — this peninsula — is transformed because of that vision.”

Meeks added that Benjamin’s vision was crucial when it came to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Because Benjamin developed Arverne By The Sea with the nearby beach environment in mind, there was very minimal damage to the community as a result.

NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, a resident of Arverne By The Sea, added that Benjamin’s legacy as “a visionary developer” goes even beyond the Rockaway peninsula.

“Sometimes people drive through Arverne By The Sea, and they ask, ‘Are we still in Rockaway?’” Brooks-Powers said. “Arverne By The Sea over the years has really set the tone in terms of what community development should be.”

YC Council Majority Whip Selvena Brooks-Powers remembers Benjamin.Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

Community Board 14 District Manager Jon Gaska, who has worked in the area for 33 years, praised both Benjamin and Dubb further, acknowledging that despite the success of Arverne By The Sea,  both took a big risk when they took on the challenge of developing the area. 

“This was a hellscape basically, and they took the financial chance and the vision to do what you see here,” Gaska said. “It really turned around this whole area.”

Community Board 14 District Manager Jon Gaska praises Benjamin and Dubb for their work.Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

Benjamin was represented at the ceremony by Benjamin Companies CEO Denise Coyle, Benjamin’s sister-in-law who remarked that the street co-naming was a fitting tribute. 

“Al had a lot of projects, but I have to say there was no project that meant more to him than Arverne By The Sea,” Coyle said. “We’re so proud of it and so proud to be here and be honored and have this memory, this very special memory for Al for the rest of time.”

“I know that Mr. Benjamin is looking down now … smiling at this event,” Meeks added. “He didn’t get to be here today, but his vision of thinking of tomorrow and children and communities yet unborn [has] made this place what it is today.”

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