Patrick Clark is currently working on two 9/11 monuments in the heavily Irish Rockaway area, one at Rockaway Beach and the other at nearby Breezy Point.
The Rockaway Beach tribute to local people who died on Sept. 11, 2001,
is located opposite a new Duane Reade drug store at the intersection of Beach 116th Street and Beach Channel Drive.
Clark, whose family roots are in Tyrone and Sligo, said that he has no problem with the store. But he does have a problem with a planned 400-square-foot illuminated billboard atop the drug store and immediately facing what will be known as Tribute Park.
Clark’s planned monument — which will be unveiled this coming Sept. 11 – includes ground-level lighting and a glass dome on top of a stone gazebo that will be lighted until midnight.
But the artist is afraid that the Duane Reade sign will ruin the lighting effects on and around the memorial. To highlight his concerns, Clark took out an ad in the local paper, The Wave. The ad urged a boycott of the Duane Reade store until it agreed to scrap plans for the sign.
Duane Reade’s response was to sue both Clark and The Wave for defamation.
Susan Locke, publisher of The Wave, said that Clark had expressed his opinion in paid advertising.
“This is a free speech issue in which a large corporation is trying to affect the free speech of others,” Locke said.
She said the paper had urged discussions and a compromise in an editorial. The paper had also pointed out that the sign could be made to face in one of two other directions and did not necessarily have to face the memorial.
Clark said that the sign and the lawsuit had become a serious distraction as he worked toward finishing both memorials.
“The case is obviously without merit and is frivolous,” he said. “But it’s turned into a kind of event.”
Clark said that the sign would be about 100 feet from the park but perched in a way that it would be “angling down” over the memorial.
“It’s a pretty small park, but it is supposed to be a place of serenity for local families,” he said. “But as things stand, it will be all lit up by the glare from the sign.”
Clark said that he was not particularly happy when the drug store – which is yet to be formally opened — was built on the adjoining site in the first place.
“It was the last property facing the bay and it would have been a nice place for something like a coffee shop,” Clark said. “We can’t do anything about the store but the sign will add insult to injury.”
Clark is now being aided in his battle against the planned sign by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The CLU has secured an extension in the case and a hearing is now expected in June.
“That will allow me finish work on the Breezy Point memorial, which is very important because of the 70 people from this area who died on Sept. 11, over a third were from Breezy Point,” Clark said.
Adam Hakki, an attorney representing Duane Reade, said that his client had filed a complaint and that those named in it had until next month to respond. He said that there would “eventually” be a court hearing.
Hakki said that beyond that he could not comment on the details of the case.