Sunset Park BID looks to fund Open Streets through the summer

Open Streets in Sunset Park in 2020.
Photo courtesy of Sunset Park Business Improvement District

Sunset Park’s business-boosting group is asking for the community’s financial support to host open streets in the neighborhood all summer long — with the option of adding another day of the weekend if enough donations are given.

“No government funding has been provided to pay for running the Open Streets program,” wrote David Estrada, executive director of the Sunset Park Business Improvement District, on the fundraiser’s website, “so we are fundraising from the community, businesses, and the program participants.”

The city launched the Open Streets program in April 2020 in an effort to encourage social distancing by blocking off select roadways from most traffic and inviting residents to use the space to enjoy the outdoors and safely gather. Neighborhood business improvement districts and volunteer groups typically facilitate the program in their zones.

The Sunset Park BID participated in the program last year, and its two employees are looking forward to expanding the program to three sections of Fifth Avenue this year. On Saturdays starting May 1, three stretches — 39th to 42nd streets, 45th to 47th streets and 55th to 59th streets — will be designated Open Streets from 4 pm to 11 pm, according to organizers, who hope that with a little more funding, the program can continue on to include Fridays.

A GoFundMe launched earlier this month aims to bring in $38,000, which, if met, would allow the BID a second day of Open Streets, and provide some extra cash to spend on activities for the neighborhood’s young’uns.

“We are just doing it pay as you go,” Estrada said. “If we raise enough money for Saturdays through Oct. 30, we will do that. If we raise even more money than that, we will do Fridays!” 

As of April 30, the group’s fundraiser has brought in over $8,000 — enough to cover Saturdays through early summer, according to the head of the BID. But, there is still a long way to go, said Estrada.

“[This] means we are pretty much paid for Saturdays through at least the end of July and maybe August, if we mind our pennies,” Estrada said.

The program will not be extended to Sundays at the behest of the strip’s merchants and religious organizations, whose patrons and parishioners often rely on public transportation, Estrada said.

“We are not going to do Sundays out of respect for the religious spaces on the avenue and the retailers,” Estrada told Brooklyn Paper. “They want access to customers, seniors and families who ride the B63 bus.”

Aside from some planned activities for children, a bulk of the BID’s funding will go toward paying individuals to monitor the Open Streets — something, Estrada and other program aides have said is too much to ask of volunteers.

“I am going to employ people to do this,” Estrada said. “Volunteers will be used … but I don’t feel it’s right to ask someone to be outdoors at midnight with police barriers and oncoming traffic if they are not retained as an employee.”

Rather than some tangible presence on behalf of the city — from the Department of Transportation, the NYPD, or some other agency — locals have been left to manage their open streets by themselves, often forming neighborhood groups to patrol the pedestrianized roadways and keep the anti-car barriers in place.

But Estrada said he is expecting to receive some city funding, which coupled with the donations will ensure a successful program for the community.

“We have a pretty ambitious goal,” he said. “Now if the city comes through with anything, now we are really talking a viable program.”