By Betsy Scheinbart
City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), a Democratic candidate for Queens borough president, said Friday she believes the AirTrain will spur commercial development of Jamaica Avenue.
“It’s going to be a big boom, to really put a shot in the arm for Jamaica,” Marshall said of the AirTrain and the development of Jamaica Center that is planned in its wake.
Marshall pointed to the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation’s plan to develop a retail complex and hotel around the new AirTrain station currently under construction next to the Long Island Rail Road station.
The $1.9 million light rail system is scheduled to connect Jamaica with John F. Kennedy International Airport by 2003. The trip from downtown Jamaica to the airport should take about eight minutes.
“You can get on at Jamaica Avenue and check your luggage, get onto the little train and it will take you to your terminal,” Marshall said.
The councilwoman said the transportation system would be a welcome alternative for riders to the traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway. In addition, the train will bring more potential shoppers to Jamaica Center.
“AirTrain is a big, big project and I think it’s going to be very helpful,” she said, adding that “quality stores” could be drawn to the commercial strip of Jamaica Avenue from Sutphin Boulevard west through 170th Street.
“Most of the stores in that area are not high quality,” Marshall said. “If they could put some of those quality stores in there, it would really help.”
Jamaica Avenue currently has a number of variety stores, women’s clothing shops and two small indoor malls. Outdoor shopping on 164th Street and Jamaica Market offer clothing accessories and fresh produce. There are no large chains of department stores in downtown Jamaica, which used to be a major shopping center for the entire borough.
In Springfield Gardens, Pathmark has been an anchor for the Springfield Boulevard strip, Marshall said. Although its move to the area was met with some community resistance at first, Marshall believes the store has had a good effect on the neighborhood.
“It has been a big boom,” Marshall said of the Pathmark. If the large supermarket chain had not moved into the community, southeast Queens residents would have continued to cross the border to shop at Green Acres mall in Valley Stream, she said.
Likewise, if department stores such as Macy’s or other national chains move into the area, they would act as anchors, bringing others to Jamaica Avenue, Marshall said.
“Stabilizing commercial strips is very important and Jamaica Avenue is a long strip, one of the longest commercial strips in the borough,” she said. “Many people pass through there. It is a well-traveled area.”
Commercial strips are struggling throughout the borough, even at Forest Hills’ well-known Austin Street shopping area, Marshall said.
“Right now, it is very difficult for all commercial strips,” Marshall said. “The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and Carlisle Towery have been working for years to improve the area, but all commercial strips need help.”
The GAP, GAP Kids, Old Navy and other stores are planned for the One Jamaica Center building, scheduled to house Jamaica’s only first-run movie theater when it opens this spring.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.