Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership joined elected and city officials last Thursday to officially open the Myrtle Avenue Plaza in Clinton Hill.
Running four blocks down Myrtle Avenue from Emerson Place to Hall Street, the new 25,000-square-foot public space was first proposed a decade ago. It was selected in the first round of the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s pedestrian plaza program, but hit many snags along the way.
Shovels hit the ground in October 2014.
“It has been a long road to get here,” said executive director Meredith Phillips Almeida. “But we’re really happy with the results.”
The organization oversees commercial revitalization on Myrtle Avenue, working with the small businesses to promote their products and services. The partnership also runs a summer jobs program for teens, a food pantry once a month, and organizes art and cultural programs.
Prior to the plaza, a 20-inch median used to separate Myrtle Avenue proper from the service road. Almeida noted that the bus stops were on that median, and commuters used to wait on the narrow space for the bus to come or to cross the street.
“It really wasn’t ideal,” she said.
Almeida added that before the $7 million plaza was built and the pedestrian space was extended, there was no real place where people could just stop to sit on a bench, enjoy their coffee, or eat their lunch on a nice day.
In addition to serving all those passive uses, the space will also be used for community and cultural events.
“We have this wonderful community of artists and musicians, and people doing fitness activities and educational events,” she said. “This is now a space where that can take place.”
According to Almeida, research shows that the longer you spend in a commercial district, the more likely you are to spend some money in the area. That’s important for the commercial corridor, 85 percent of which is comprised of small mom-and-pop shops.
“They very much need the foot traffic right now,” she said. “We’re hoping we can leverage this plaza to help drive more people to our small businesses.”
Ahmad Samhan, owner of the taqueria Villa Pancho, said he thought the plaza was a wonderful idea. Samhan owned the Middle Eastern restaurant Zaytoon’s for 16 years, but converted the spot into a taqueria two years ago.
In addition to giving locals a safer space to walk, the plaza will also become a gathering place, he said.
“We’re hoping that it will attract new customers, give the locals an opportunity to stay in the neighborhood as well and spend some of their money here, as opposed to going outside and spending it there,” Samhan said.
He noted that the long construction time was tough for area businesses, which suffered throughout the delays. But Samhan said he hopes the wait was worth it.
“The patrons, the local merchants and even the residents of our neighborhood, we’re hoping that our patience will pay off,” he said.
He added that having grown up and lived in Clinton Hill for 45 years, he hopes Myrtle Avenue will no longer be a street that people pass through, but a destination for visitors.
“Just the beautification of Myrtle Avenue,” he said, “it’s a beautiful thing to have witnessed.”
Clinton Hill resident Shirley Gadson, who proudly said she has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said she loved the plaza because it brings the community “into the 21st century.” She was somewhat skeptical at first, worried about the noise and having more people on the street.
But now that it’s here, Gadson said she likes that people can enjoy themselves just by sitting on the benches and taking a break.
“I live right here and I can go on my terrace, but it was just nice to sit down and say hello to the people who were passing by,” she said.
Gadson said she expects more people in the area, especially if there are constant events happening at the plaza, such as live music or yoga.
However, the longtime Clinton Hill resident did have one request. She said she wants the bus stop moved back over to Ryerson Street “where it belongs.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony last week also marked the start of Move On Myrtle, the partnership’s summer series of free events and programs at the plaza. The series includes fitness on Mondays, kids programs on Tuesdays and live music on Wednesdays through September.
For the full lineup of events, visit myrtleavenue.org.