In late-December, Mina Vassilakis was driving along Grand Avenue in Maspeth, searching for a parking place near her favorite jewelry store. Instead of a spot, she encountered a stretch of cones and “no parking” signs, indicating that the strip of roadway was reserved for a film production crew.
Vassilakis drove on.
“Blocking off the parking spots is not fair to the businesses in the area or the people who need to get things done,” Vassilakis wrote on Facebook. “I was going to the jewelry store on Grand yesterday and because the parking spots were blocked by cones but no filming yet, I couldn’t find a parking spot so I went to another jeweler.”
Councilmember Robert Holden has also noticed the potential impact on local businesses in his Council District 30.
Holden issued a statement after a local entrepreneur contacted him to complain about film crews blocking parking spots along Metropolitan Avenue, one of the busiest commercial strips in District 30. The owner said parking was restricted on more than three blocks. The business owner said that drivers and other entrepreneurs were suffering — even if other residents are not bothered by the film crews.
On Dec. 17, Holden announced that he would explore legislation that would raise the price of film permits, which currently cost $300 or $3,200 on Department of Citywide Administrative Services property.
Holden said he is considering a bill that would increase the permit fee to $5,000 and increase the length of notice that film crews are required to give the community.
"It's already hard enough for local businesses to deal with increased parking meter costs and unfair fines for signage before a film crew takes up several blocks of parking on top of that," Holden said. "It's outrageous that this filming is taking place during the week before Christmas, one of the busiest shopping periods of the year that local companies survive on."
The city has issued more than 8,400 film permits in Queens since 2012, according to data on the city’s Open Data website. Between September 2017 and September 2018, the city issued more than 1,300 permits, according to NYC Open Data records. The number does not include permits issued in the last three months because that info is not public for security reasons, an Office of Media and Entertainment spokesperson told the Eagle.
Most of the permits were issued for production in Astoria and Long Island City. There were at least eight permits issued for production in Middle Village, located in District 30, between September 2017 and September 2018, according to the city’s Open Data. Each permit allows filming on multiple days in one area and parking can be reserved in advance.
In 2017, the city and state provided $621 million in subsidies for film and television shoots, but it remained unclear how much return on investment the city receives in the form of new jobs and business, the Village Voice reported. The city introduced the incentives to attract production from other locations, including Canada, which started its own incentive program in 1997.
In 2004, the city began the Film Production Tax Credit program, which reimburses 10 percent of all the cost of shooting. Four years later in 2008, the city tripled the reimbursement to 30 percent of shooting fees, the Voice reported.
The city stands by the incentive, contending that it provides jobs to thousands of New Yorkers.
“The benefits of productions filming in the city are tremendous,” a Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME)spokesperson told the Eagle. “Filming brings more than 130,000 full-time and steady well-paying jobs, and $9 billion to the economy per a BCG report in 2015.”
Holden said those stated benefits do not necessarily translate to his community, however.
“Production crews do bring jobs and money to the city which can be seen as benefits, but the local neighborhoods do not benefit from it,” a spokesman for Holden told the Eagle. “The hope is that raising the permit fee will make production crews more aware of the impact they are having on neighborhoods. If the fee alters their budget, maybe they will consider bringing less equipment and taking up less parking.”
The MOME said they take the city takes the parking problems seriously and attempts to mitigate the inconvenience by pacing the frequency of shoots and matching the size of the shoot to the density of the community. The MOME said it maintains an 860-block “moratorium list” that bans film permits for six months.
“Our office can place a block on the moratorium list if there are significant community concerns,” the MOME said, adding that the city receives relatively few filming complaints via 311.
“Over one million calls are placed to 311 every month on various city issues. On average, only slightly over 100 calls citywide are complaints on filming,” a MOME spokesperson said. “We work hard to monitor production levels in all neighborhoods and push productions to neighborhoods that want all the economic benefits that productions bring. We also work to ensure that a production’s parking footprint is not larger than needed.”
But for Queens residents and businesses, the parking issue remains a balancing act.
“Having films shoot in the area is great, I love it. I do however, hate it at times, since I drive a vehicle for work,” said Astoria resident Amy Dudley. “I make it work for me though, come home early to get a spot or stay out working later.”