City Island community and business leaders develop plans to fill vacant stores

Civic and business leaders on City Island meet with officials from government and economic development corporations to address a problem that been plaguing the tony community for years.

With at least 20 chronically vacant storefronts, representatives from the City Island Civic Association and the City Island Chamber of Commerce hosted a roundtable discussion on Monday, August 24 to develop ideas about the types of people or businesses that could fill vacant real estate on the island’s only commercial corridor.

Among the ideas discussed for City Island Avenue were a plan to encourage artists to rent stores for live/work/exhibit spaces, and attracting businesses that do not need a lot of foot traffic or companies that do all or most of their sales online.

Representatives from Governor Cuomo’s office, Empire State Development Corporation, New York City Economic Development Corporation, Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation and Bronx Chamber of Commerce were there to listen, as was a representative from Bronx Council on the Arts.

“I think one thing that rang out at the meeting is that what we have been doing for years has not worked,” said John Doyle, CICA corresponding secretary, who added “I am confident that having some of the major economic players in one room showed that there is interest in change.”

Going forward, the chamber and the civic will reconcile their ideas, said Doyle, and come up with a proposal which they will then pitch to economic development officials.

Live/work/exhibit space for artists seems like an idea that many in the community can embrace, and the City Island Chamber of Commerce has proposed this as a partial solution for several years, said Gerard Giacco.

“I have been working on the artist live/work space idea for about three years now, and I think it is viable and something that is important to do on City Island,” said Gerard Giacco, City Island chamber president. “I don’t see how there is a way to fill up all of the available storefronts with retail business that are going to be able to sustain themselves with only 5,000 residents.”

He added that artists bring an energy that the community could use, and Doyle said that other communities that have seen an influx of artists have also experienced economic benefits.

However, offering a different perspective at the meeting was Bill Stanton, CICA president, who expressed concerns about the malleability of what constitutes an ‘artist.’

There will be a number of meetings soon to decide how to proceed, said Barbara Dolensek, CICA second vice president.

“Representatives from both the state and city had some interesting things to offer, but the ball is now in our court to come up with what we want,” she said, adding that it is a shame that some owners of commercial property on the island don’t maintain their stores.

According to Doyle, some of the property owners that the CICA reached out to did not respond to requests, and more participation would have been welcomed.

Only two landlords or their representative attended the meeting.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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