April 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin
The state legislature unanimously passed a bill last month to protect and preserve the historic character of the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge in Kew Gardens.
The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal and State Sen. Leroy Comrie, will protect the 100-year-old architecture of the bridge and the 14 storefronts that are located atop of it — which the MTA plans to renovate.
“The Lefferts Boulevard Bridge serves as both a historic landmark and a community hub for Kew Gardens,” Rosenthal said.
The MTA, which owns the property, issued a request for proposals for a new property manager to renovate, repair and manage the storefronts on the bridge in October.
The MTA’s chosen property manager will be charged with repairing the buildings and maintaining their upkeep over time. It will also be responsible for managing and leasing the retail spaces.
The bill requires the chosen property manager to preserve the footprint of the current structure, which was built in the 1920s, as part of the renovation process.
The legislation also gives some protection to the existing mom-and-pop shops along the bridge that runs from Austin Street to Grenfell Street.
It aims to help them secure a lease renewal, since Rosenthal and Comrie said the MTA included no provisions to keep the existing tenants in its request for proposals.
The bill offers the business owners the “right of first refusal” — which essentially gives them first dibs on leasing the storefronts on the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge once they are renovated.
“Over decades, the diverse small businesses along this corridor have been entrenched in the civic and cultural life of our neighborhood,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “To destroy their livelihoods without cause during a pandemic is both unconscionable and preventable.”
Comrie said he is committed to helping the small businesses remain tenants along the bridge as well.
“I have worked closely with Assembly Member Rosenthal and the Kew Gardens community to ensure the architectural and cultural integrity of the Lefferts Blvd. bridge is upheld through this restoration process,” Comrie said in a statement.
“More importantly, we remain committed to ensuring that the existing commercial tenants who have built their livelihoods on this bridge are not treated as if they are expendable.”
The legislation passed both the State Assembly and Senate unanimously and will be sent to the governor for approval.
Its follows 2018 legislation introduced by both Rosenthal and Comrie that saved the bridge itself from demolition. The MTA originally planned to destroy it due to its compromised structure.
The agency, instead, invested $1 million to repair the bridge to make sure it was structurally sound. However, the funds did not go toward fixing the stores.
Community members played a large role in saving the bridge — advocating for its importance to the Kew Gardens neighborhood.
The president of the Kew Gardens Civic Association Dominick Pistone thanked Rosenthal and Comrie for their support in maintaining the Lefferts Boulevard Bridge, which he called “the commercial center of our urban village in the big city.”