Leaders, merchants reach deal on Jackson Heights plaza


| brennison@queenscourier.com |

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A new partnership — SUKHI — was formed to help turn the 37th Road plaza in Jackson Heights into a Queens destination.

An agreement reached by store owners and local leaders aims to rid a year-old Jackson Heights plaza of vagrants and begin bringing business back.

A pedestrian plaza on 37th Road between 73rd Street and 74th Street, which consists of mostly South Asian businesses, opened in September 2011 to create a court for residents to walk, sit and relax, but local businesses said it instead drove customers away.

Stores complained the plaza was plagued with homelessness, drunkenness and crime, forcing some shops to close early.

To combat these problems a nonprofit partnership — Social Uplift Knowledge and Hopes Initiative (SUKHI) — was formed to take ownership of the plaza, make it a vibrant shopping area and deal with the issues that arose there.

“This plaza without amenities, safety measures, development and management would create problems, and that’s what we saw,” said Agha Saleh, founder of SUKHI.

Councilmember Daniel Dromm said it was not easy to reach this “historic day” at a Friday, August 10 press conference announcing the agreement.

“We have gone beyond any differences that we may have had in the past,” Dromm said. “We have established a relationship of trust.”

SUKHI — a Punjabi word meaning prosperity and happiness — was formed by husband and wife Saleh and Shazia Kausar, the group’s president.

Kausar said the partnership changed what was a nightmare into “a dream of prosperity.”

“If we don’t work together, we will lose everything,” said Kausar, who also owns a shop on the block.

DOE Fund workers are now cleaning the plaza thrice daily and security cameras are being installed.

Events are also planned for the plaza including an Eid Bazar and Chand Raat Festival that will take place from August 16 through August 20.

“The object of this plaza is to promote this area, to bring more customers from outside,” said Mohammed Pier, president of the Bangladeshi Merchants Association.

Saleh said his dream for the plaza is a place where residents “can walk and talk and enjoy music every single night.”

“A small block, but very vibrant.”