— Days Without Shea —

Willets_Ardizzone.jpg
The more we read and post about Willets Point, the more interested we are to meet that neighborhood's lone resident: Joseph Ardizzone.

AMNY.com finally gave Ardizzone a proper introduction to the world. Check out this excellent profile and Web video. The clip is a bit jumpy but the package is a great little piece of Net journalism.

Joseph Ardizzone is the mayor of Willets Point Boulevard.

Not that the title confers much prestige. Willets Point Boulevard is pockmarked dirt road that cuts through the Iron Triangle in Queens, surrounded on all sides by tin-roof chop shops and junk yards.

But for Ardizzone, it's home, and has been for all of his 75 years.

He is the only resident left in the distressed neighborhood, and has been for decades now.

And even though the city is trying pave over this blighted corner of the city and kick out all the businesses, Ardizzone says he isn't leaving -- and is rallying the rest of the neighborhood to the cause.

"I'm going to stay here as long as I can," said Ardizzone. "If they can do this to me what can they do to the future children of this country?"

When Ardizzone was a child, Willets Point was still mostly farmland, and his family kept chickens and goats on their property. The World's Fair in 1939-40 gradually started to change all of that, and by the 1960s and '70s, the chops shops and warehouses had taken over.

The rest of the families that made up the neighborhood eventually moved out, but Ardizzone stayed, living in the rooms that he grew up in, above a coffee shop.

"Where would I go?" he asks. "My sister is always trying to get me to move out, but I like it here. It's quiet in the evenings, and there is always somebody to talk to."

The Bloomberg administration is calling for a $3 billion redevelopment of the area, including a million square feet in retail space, a convention center, and a hotel. City officials have threatened to invoke eminent domain to push out reluctant businesses, and of course, the area's lone resident.

The plan is undergoing a land-use review by the City Council.

But the business owners say they are desperate to remain in a place, where there can be near their suppliers, and are looking to Ardizzone to lead the way.

"He's the king of the junkyard. This place is in his blood," said Frank Abissi, who has run a tire shop in Willets Point for 15 years, after relocating from his native Afghanistan. "He knows that if we have to close we can't support our families. I came to this country to work. What can I do?"

And as long as he's there, many folks feel like they've got at least a fighting chance to take on City Hall.

"They are going to have to drag Joe out of his home … and lock him up somewhere to make sure he doesn't come back," said Jerry Antonacci, whose family has owned a waste removal facility in the area since 1959. "You live in a place until you are 70-something years old, how are you supposed to move?"

He credits Ardizzone for organizing the opposition.

"Lots of people don't have the time to keep up, so he updates them, tells them what's going on. For a one man band, I'd say he's doing all right."



[May 27, 2008 1:49 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Ron Hunt said

I know I will be viewed as callous but the junk shops and car chop shops must go! This area has been a blight on the Shea area since Shea opened. It's a useless area that bring little value to the area, Queens or NYC. Has anyone ever gone there and spent money? Or used their services? This is simply a dramatic improvement for the area. Don't confuse it with O'Malley's removal of an entire Chicano community in Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium. Without this type of urban improvement the entire city would still look like Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" set.

[May 28, 2008 5:14 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Bobster said

I both agree and disagree with Ron. The junk shops and chop shops are out of place across the street from Citi Field, but they aren't useless. They provide employment and services that have value. The city should relocate them to a more suitable area. Frankly, this area surrounding Shea has been an eyesore for decades.

[May 28, 2008 11:32 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Ron Hunt said

Please suggest a "more suitable area"?

Sounds NIMBY, to me.

[May 28, 2008 2:19 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Katharine said

Dear Ron:

You think the junk shops must go as you do not work or have a business there. Willets Point has over 250 business that employees over 3000 people who mostly take a bus, bike ride, or train to work. They have families and live in low income housing. What right dose the City have to come in and take property and but all these families out of work. Are we not having enough problems keeping jobs and our homes in this economy. There are enough people on unemployment the city should be helping and supporting these business not creating more people to be out of work.

[May 28, 2008 10:26 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Ron Hunt said

Katharine,

I don't mean to appear rude, and I understand people and their businesses will be displaced, and please keep in mind this blog was started because the Mets are screwing us mini plan holders and not offering us seats in the new park, but this is for the greater good. The city has two legal positions, eminent domain and right of way, that have weathered many legal challenges. We should, and must,find a place for the Triangle to relocate to, but it must go.

[May 29, 2008 12:05 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Bobster said

A more suitable area would be an area which is primarily industrial. There is a place for these kinds of businesses, but not across the street from a $500 million ballpark that will be attracting fans from all over the world.


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