A beautiful street
by Heather Senison
Nov 09, 2011 | 1565 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Michael Terry has a vision to transform Grand Avenue into a vibrant streetscape people are eager to visit and where businesses yearn to set up shop.

Terry moved to New York City from Tennessee in 1979. Originally he kept his business in Manhattan when he moved to Woodside, but Terry looked for a way to be connected to the business world close to his home. Then the Chamber of Commerce approached him.

Now, in addition to being a certified financial planner with an office on Grand Avenue, Terry became the president of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce in April 2010.

In an interview in his office last week, Terry discussed what a chamber of commerce is, and its goals for Maspeth.

“The goals are to make Maspeth very friendly to business, to make Maspeth a place that people want to come and shop and do business,” Terry said.

A chamber of commerce connects businesses, secures money for their streetscapes, and advocates for its beautification, he said.

“If businesses could combine our forces, combine our resources, then we could afford to come out and clean up the streets,” Terry explained. “If the avenue isn't attractive, and if the businesses on the avenue aren’t attractive and aren’t getting their name out that they care about the neighborhood, then what's the incentive for bringing more traffic onto Grand Avenue?”

A challenge for the Chamber is to gain and retain members, since it is comprised only of volunteers, Terry said.

But the biggest obstacle for the Chamber in meeting its goals, he said, is funding. What was once $40,000 in state grants and $10,000 from the city is dwindling down to nothing from the state and $5,000 from the city, which coupled with the small dues paid by each of the Chamber’s roughly 110 members, doesn’t go very far.

“We've relied on government grants to pay for many of the beautification projects,” he said, but “the government grants have disappeared since I became president.”

Among the work that suffers from the low funding is the sanitation along Grand Avenue. The Chamber no longer can afford to pay for trash to be picked up in between garbage days.

Garbage is a hot-button issue on Grand Avenue, Terry said, because nearby residents who live in multi-family homes don’t have dumpsters to stow their trash in while waiting for garbage day.

However, he said when the Chamber calls the Sanitation Department to complain about litter on the avenue, inspectors come hand out tickets.

“If you call them and complain, then they're going come and give more tickets,” he said, “and that's not what we want, that's not a solution.”

While the chamber is seeking a solution to the sanitation problem, it is ultimately up to storeowners to keep the area in front of their shops clean, Terry said.

Terry also wants to get rid of the tree pits along the avenue. The trees are surrounded by foot-and-a-half tall black metal fencing, which trucks run over, cars bump into and prevent passengers from opening their doors, he said.

It is becoming more common for shopping strips to form Business Improvement Districts (BID), Terry said, which requires building owners to pay dues in the form of increased property taxes.

Those dues pay for an executive director, lobbying and other services. While it may seem like an ideal solution to some, Terry said landlords shy away from potential tax increases.

“There are many members of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce who do believe that a BID is a good thing, but there's certainly a number that do not,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing for business here.”

Despite the complications, Terry said he is proud of the chamber’s leading role in the bypass plan, which directs trucks away from residential areas in Maspeth. He spoke fondly of the Chamber’s work with Assemblywoman Marge Markey to put clocks, antique lampposts, flowers and other beautifications along Grand Avenue.

In addition, Terry successfully negotiated down the price of the Christmas lights the chamber strings across the street for the holidays.

“I think we've managed to get to the point where we're actually not losing money on the Christmas tree lights,” he said, so Grand Avenue will look festive for another year.

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