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East Harlem residents and businesses adjusting to simultaneous subway upgrades

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NEW YORK — The passage of the federal infrastructure bill has moved forward many projects to improve transportation throughout the Tri-State. Now, competing construction along Park and Second avenues is causing concerns for those living and working in East Harlem.

The simultaneous subway upgrades straddle the busiest blocks of the area, but before businesses can benefit, some will face a big burden.

Greenhouses grow leaves that dance at the Urban Garden Center. For more than 13 years, the third generation shop has called La Marqueta home. In September, the city helped Dimitri Gatanas move five blocks south to make way for crews reconstructing the Metro-North viaduct over Park. He said he is still getting calls from confused customers.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly better than not being in business,” Gatanas admitted.

A 1970s-era law limits moving expense contributions by the city to $12,500, leaving Gatanas about $100,000 per year in extra costs related to the move.

“MTA did a lot to make us whole,” Gatanas said, “but the gap is so wide that…I don’t know if I could afford it.”

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At the same time, construction is set to begin along Second Avenue, mostly underground, extending the subway from East 96th Street to meet Metro-North at East 125th Street. MTA chairman Janno Lieber pointed to a boom in businesses impacted by the first phase of the project.

“It’s going to be a lot better when there’s more mass transit right in front of your store, so this will be a huge benefit for them and we’re going to work with everybody to make sure the construction impacts are manageable,” Lieber said.

Down the block from the East 125th Street station, Brownstone Boutique owner Princess Jenkins feels optimistic.

“It’s called ‘Survivor’s Row,’ because most of the people on this side of 125th Street actually moved from the west side,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins has been in business for 25 years, and she feels a similar shift could be coming if they are not careful.

“As small business owners, we want to survive and be able to see them come and to benefit from that,” Jenkins said.

“We were so ahead of our time when we named our Merchants Association Uptown Grand Central, because the vision was that this station would become the Uptown Grand Central,” she added.

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The group hopes to create spaces that stop commuters in their tracks and encourage them to spend time and money.

“We’d still be horse and buggy if things didn’t change,” said Jenkins, “so change is inevitable. What we want to do is be in a position to benefit from the change.”

Community Board 11 chair Xavier Santiago is vowing to continue fighting for the small businesses at the heart of El Barrio.

“We have to maintain these rails and make sure that we can have safe transportation, but it will have an economic impact in the short term,” Santiago said. “Our ultimate goal is to see a long-term manifestation of success for all of our local businesses and residents.”

Urban Garden Center is now gearing up for a series of events, teaming up with Uptown Grand Central to greet their new neighbors.

“All these things will be lit up with lights everywhere,” Gatanas said, gesturing. “It’s like a winter wonderland.”

Construction on both projects will last at least five years.

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Source: CBS

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