March 11, 2016 By Jackie Strawbridge
With the MTA seeking to repurpose a defunct rail line in industrial Long Island City, a local entrepreneur outlined one group’s plans for a multi-million dollar public park built with private money.
The former LIRR connection is called the Montauk Cutoff and runs between Sunnyside Yards and Newtown Creek. The MTA released a “Request for Expressions of Interest” (RFEI) to businesses, nonprofits, community groups and individuals for ideas on how to reuse the cutoff.
Coffeed CEO Frank Raffaele said he is part of a group called Elevate Queens that responded to the RFEI with a plan for a public park funded mostly by private dollars.
“The most important thing to take away from Elevate Queens’ proposal is that this is a 100 percent public accessible park,” Raffaele said.
He said Elevate Queens’ plan could incorporate a number of entertainment components or amenities, such as gardens or an urban farm, event space, food and beverage concepts or fitness programs. All the proceeds from any of these components would go towards the benefit of the park, he said.
He compared the cutoff plan to Manhattan’s High Line, also a former rail line that was transformed into a public park.
Raffaele estimated that creating a public park out of the Montauk Cutoff would ultimately cost “tens of millions of dollars.” He said that Elevate Queens would look to initially raise $10 million from private sources to cover preliminary design and feasibility studies, environmental surveys and initial construction.
Raffaele was confident that residential developers in particular would be interested in supporting this project.
“They have invested very large amounts of money in the Long Island City area and there’s nothing that’s going to help their investment more than activating underused areas,” he said.
Raffaele declined to say who else is involved in Elevate Queens at this stage of planning.
Elevate Queens is not the only group interested in the Montauk Cutoff.
A group of urban farmers have already been using part of the MTA property for years under the name Smiling Hogshead Ranch. They have been operating on a year-to-year lease with the MTA since 2014, but with the agency’s new efforts they now stand in danger of losing their farm.
The ranch has joined other groups such as the Newtown Creek Alliance to form a Cutoff Coalition, with its own response to the MTA’s RFEI.
Smiling Hogshead Ranch operations director Geoffrey Brock said that their plan involves expanding their current operations throughout the cutoff property, including composting, rainwater harvesting, creating a stage or amphitheater for bigger events and installing solar panels, among other ideas.
“I think it’s safe to say that everyone involved, including the local community, would hope that any other proposal would at least respect the existing use of the garden,” Brock said. “We would also hope that the MTA would want to steer it in that direction as well.”
“They obviously see what we’ve done thus far and see the benefits that we’re providing,” he added.
Based on what the MTA receives through its RFEI, it may launch a more formal “Request for Proposals” process, according to the agency.
Raffaele said that if Elevate Queens’ plan moves forward and funding is raised, “then we’re going to get the designers, the architects, the community groups to really figure [it] out.”
He also said that Elevate Queens has not reached out to Smiling Hogshead Ranch but would be interested in involving them in the future RFP response.
“We are big fans of the Hogshead Ranch and what they’ve done for the neighborhood and we certainly plan to incorporate them,” he said.
The MTA declined to comment on their RFEI process or responses the agency received.