New Kids on the Block: 200 W. 23rd/24th St. Block Association Formed

L to R: Omar Fattal, M.D. and Laurence Frommer invite their neighbors to the 200 West 23rd/24th Street Block Association’s Sept. 5 inaugural meeting. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

BY WINNIE McCROY | Prompted by ongoing issues such as neighborhood beautification, the tenants and business owners of the 200 block of W. 23rd and 24th Sts. have teamed up to form their very own block association. And if you live there, you can be a part of it — by heading to the Chabad of Chelsea (236 W. 23rd St.) on Wed., Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. for the inaugural meeting.

“I had just moved here last summer and was thinking every day, ‘What’s going on in this area? Why is there so much garbage and why are the tree beds empty with the trees all cut down?’ ” recalled Omar Fattal, M.D., co-founder of the 200 West 23rd/24th Street Block Association.

When Fattal saw the board meeting minutes for his co-op, Chelsea Gardens, and noticed that other tenants were also concerned about these issues, he reached out to the phone numbers provided, and contacted the umbrella organization, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA). The organizers suggested he attend their upcoming meeting to get some more information.

“So I went and met all the different Chelsea block associations, and saw that they had similar issues [such as] garbage and general beautification,” Fattal recalled. “I got the same message from everyone: If you want to get anything done, you have to get a block association so you have a stronger voice.”

Fattal teamed up with neighbor Laurence Frommer and spread the word: They’d host their first 200 West 23rd/24th Street Block Association meeting at the local synagogue. Within an hour of sending the email, Fattal said he received 15 interested replies. At this point, he’s gotten replies from about 30 people — and that doesn’t even include tenants in buildings without a doorman, where he hasn’t been able to do outreach or post flyers.

“That block of West 23rd and West 24th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues has long been in need of an organization of commercial and residential interests. This new block association is a great start,” said Paul Groncki, Chair of 100 W. 16th St. Block Association, and President of the 130 W. 16th St. Owners, Inc.

This new block association has reached out to a number of local businesses, which is extremely important because W. 23rd St. is a largely commercial corridor. It seems that residents and businesses alike share the same issues.

“We would like to address issues around garbage, both garbage pickup and general littering, plus getting to an overall feel of more cleanliness,” Fattal said. “We also want to improve the tree beds and plantings, and stop people from using the sidewalks for inappropriate uses such as stacking up piles of empty boxes.”

Co-founder Frommer echoed this sentiment, saying, “Because 23rd Street gets so much traffic, we want to make sure to keep the block clean.”

Frommer, who also serves as president of Save Chelsea, said that he was working to reclaim the tree pits with plantings of some kind, noting that CCBA member Pamela Wolff had provided him with garden tools. He even cleaned and planted one tree pit last week as an experiment, but was dismayed to see that people had thrown litter atop the plantings.

“That project requires maintenance,” he noted. “Maybe each building can take ownership of the tree pit in front of them.”

Another big issue comes with addressing the area’s growing homeless population. Fattal understands the problem: He’s a psychiatrist at Bellevue who figures that about 60 percent of his patients are homeless. Still, he knows the issue demands kid gloves.

“Everyone understands it’s a complicated and sensitive issue,” Fattal said, “but still people want to see what’s the best approach to dealing with that, for everyone’s benefit.”

In an effort to reclaim local tree pits, Laurence Frommer cleaned and planted this W. 24th St. one last week, only to discover litter atop the plantings. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

Frommer said that they were lucky to have “a good advisory group with the BRC shelter nearby,” referring to the homeless shelter at 131 W. 25th St., noting that he also recently worked with Carl Wilson, Speaker Corey Johnson’s  Community Board 4 (CB4) liaison, to help assist a local homeless man suffering from a foot injury. But they’re taking the rest one step at a time.

Said Frommer, “We figure we’ll start with planting pretty things and cleaning up the block — stuff that everyone agrees with — and then go from there.”

The block association has reached out to local businesses, because they want to ensure they’re working with the residents to make the area nicer for everyone.

“Having so many businesses on our block, how can we leverage that so they are invested in making sure the block is clean and beautiful, visually?” Fattal asked. “Our thought is that businesses might have more money than our no-income block association. Some of these businesses, like Whole Foods, are really big. But we also have a public library, a synagogue, the Chelsea Hotel, and lots of small shops and restaurants.”

Chelsea Now contacted the local Whole Foods store (at 250 Seventh Ave., at W. 24th St.), and the store leader Patty said that they looked forward to working with the block association, and had already donated flowers for their meeting.

Fattal said he’s hoping to spread the word about the 200 W. 23rd/24th Street Block Association’s Sept. 5 meeting, and wants to make clear that just because he started the group doesn’t mean he’s put himself in charge. He encourages those interested in leadership to reach out to him. And he’s also touched base with other local block associations and resources for tips on how to take the “baby steps” necessary to become an established organization.

When it comes to block associations, Chelsea has a very strong history, dating back to the mid-’70s for groups like the 200 W. 21st St. Block Association, and the 400 W. 21-23rd Street group. Longtime organizer Pamela Wolff, who is also active in the group Save Chelsea, spoke on behalf of the CCBA, saying that she had an abundance of wisdom on how — and how not — to do things.

“We’re always excited when another group of people who live in the same place get their act together and form a group, because that way they get a bigger voice on what happens on the block,” Wolff said. “Early on, it’s easy to sink the ship with too much time spent on constitutional searching for formation, opening bank accounts, tackling tax questions about non-profits, and deciding whether to become a 501(c)(3). My advice is don’t bother with it. Just get your people together and create some letterhead with your name on it, sit around someone’s living room and pick your officers, and go from there.”

Wolff suggests people make themselves “reasonably official” by putting officers’ names on the letterhead, and picking a logo or design to represent your block. Then, once you’re an established, bona fide block association, you can approach the CCBA for membership in a group that will give you an even bigger voice.

Said Wolff, “You can bring matters to them and they will discuss it and come to some conclusion about what they want to support. Then they’ll write a letter on their letterhead supporting your quest for new trees or whatever it is.”

This Rite Aid on Eighth Ave. and W. 24th St. often treats the sidewalk like a storage unit, said Omar Fattal, M.D., during Chelsea Now’s Aug. 28 tour of West 24 St., btw. Seventh and Eighth Aves. | Photo by Scott Stiffler

CB4 liaison Wilson offered Frommer and Fattal similar advice, pointing them toward the strong network of block associations in Chelsea, especially CCBA, as the best way to grow.

“Block associations work to keep their blocks clean and safe, promote community engagement, and provide an avenue for residents to organize around community issues. I look forward to working with the [200 West 23rd/24th St.] block association and assisting them in the years ahead,” Wilson said.

The CCBA meets faithfully every month, often at the Fulton Houses offices, to discuss business. Wolff counts about 16 different block associations now affiliated with CCBA.

Wolf noted that you need to elect officers, at the very least a president and a treasurer, and open an account. For this block association, she suggested they approach Apple Bank (250 W. 23rd St.) both to open the account, and to see if they want to join the block association.

If you want to be an association that charges membership dues, Wolff said, you’ll need to have annual meetings and executive board meetings. But that’s for those groups with a lot of manpower, operating under a big head of steam.

Wolff’s most sage wisdom: Start small. Pick an area of one or two blocks, something that’s a reasonable chunk of space to manage. Don’t cross avenues, because issues change with new populations, like those now facing the upscale condo owners that flocked to Sixth Ave. after rezoning. Block associations should remember to include the east and west sides of the avenues that connect directly to the blocks represented. And before you go starting something, make sure there’s not already a block association covering your area.

Newbies should focus on growing their membership, and then on basic fundraising. This can be via a letter soliciting donations, contributions from local businesses, doing a stoop sale, member street sales, or a block party. She suggested that 24th St. would be fairly easy to have a block party on, with help from local businesses like the Whole Foods, CVS, the Gap, and Rite Aid.

The inaugural meeting of the 200 West 23rd/24th Street Block Association will be held from 7-8 p.m. on Wed., Sept. 5, at the Chabad of Chelsea (236 W. 23rd St., 2nd Floor; btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.).

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