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THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre
THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre
Jamaica Avenue

Signaling the beginning of a new era for Jamaica, politicians and community leaders announced Wednesday the launch of the Jamaica Now Action Plan, which is designed to revitalize the neighborhood through promoting development, events and jobs.

After nine months of vetting ideas with the community, officials unveiled the 21-step action plan, 16 of which will be implemented within three years and cost $153 million. The plan’s initiatives hope to create 3,000 new housing units, 500,000 square feet of retail space and 800 hotel rooms in five years, according to officials.

For Jamaica residents, it means a safer downtown with free public Wi-Fi, new streetscapes, more events and job opportunities. For business owners and art institutions, there will be resources to help grow their organizations and companies. And for developers, the city is prepared to support new projects, especially those with affordable housing, in downtown Jamaica, which some have named “DoJam.”

“Queens is the number one destination of choice in the United States of America for the year 2015,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “And what we did here today as a partnership is to make sure that Jamaica is an active participant in the number one destination; that folks come from all around the world just to visit Jamaica, Queens. ”

Some actions included in the plan are already taking place, such as the NYC Economic Development Corporation’s request for proposals for builders to replace the NYPD garage on 168th Street with a mixed-use residential project, and the Small Business Services grant to help fund redesigns of storefronts on Sutphin Boulevard.

However, others will take at least five years, such as a plan to convince owners of vacant or neglected properties to utilize their sites. Another longer-term project includes constructing new water mains to accommodate the increase in new developments.

Some other highlights of the plan include a $250,000 study to improve the attractiveness of Jamaica Avenue, the installation of more NYPD cameras around the community, and the implementation of a new Select Bus Service route from Jamaica to Flushing.

Although not originally part of the 21 actions, Alicia Glen, deputy mayor for housing and economic development, announced five additional plans to help improve the area, including a branding program for Jamaica and an initiative to draw more tourists to Jamaica’s cultural institutions.

Also, “DoJam” will be included in the city’s LinkNYC network, which replaces old payphones with touchscreen kiosks that provide free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, directions and charging stations for mobile devices.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen talking to a crowd about the Jamaica Now Action Plan.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen talking to a crowd about the Jamaica Now Action Plan.

“I have seen the many changes in Jamaica,” Assemblyman William Scarborough said. “I remember going back when we had a Mays and a Macy’s and we had three movie [theaters] on Jamaica Avenue. Now Jamaica is back on an upswing. This is going to be one of the bright lights in the city of New York.”

The city has been working to revitalize Jamaica for decades after its economic downturn in the ’70s and ’80s with various investments such as the construction of the JFK AirTrain in 2003, and the rezoning of the downtown area in 2007, which paved the way for more development. Seeing the potential with the transit hub and low land rates, real estate investors have also been buying large properties and planning more projects in Jamaica.

Carlisle Towery, who has led the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation for 40 years, has long advocated for many infrastructure investments that helped guide Jamaica back from its dark era where businesses were quickly leaving. While he is retiring this year, Towery said the action plan is just the beginning of the future of Jamaica.

“My career is ending, but it’s very nice and gratifying to end it with a beginning,” he said. “And Jamaica Now is that beginning. It’s the start of a big step forward in moving Jamaica to the next level.”

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