By Betsy Scheinbart
Undeterred by the negative economic impact of the World Trade Center disaster Sept. 11, Jamaica business owners are pushing for the creation of a Business Improvement District on Sutphin Boulevard near the future AirTrain station.
The AirTrain, a capital project of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is scheduled to connect John F. Kennedy International Airport with Jamaica in 2003.
Work on the AirTrain slowed after the Sept. 11 attack when equipment was moved to the site of the disaster to help in search and recovery, but it will probably still open on schedule, said Pasquale DiFulco, a spokesman for the Port Authority.
“Because the opening dates are still a ways off, we are looking to make it up,” DiFulco said of the lost work time. “If there is an effect, it will be minimal.”
Merchants anticipate that AirTrain will bring more business through Jamaica as tourists, business travelers and airport workers transfer there to the Long Island Rail Road and the E, J and Z subway lines.
Their goal in creating a BID is to attract new businesses, especially those associated with the airport.
“The amenities and improvements will make Sutphin Boulevard look like a small village with a unique and appealing atmosphere,” said April Jones, owner of Coleman’s Corner Day Care Center at 90-16 Sutphin Blvd. and vice chairman of the BID’s steering committee.
If the BID is authorized by the city, it will cover Sutphin Boulevard from Hillside Avenue to Jamaica Avenue. The AirTrain station in under construction just two blocks south of Jamaica Avenue, next to the LIRR station.
“I’ve already seen changes and many of us along Sutphin Boulevard are looking forward to the benefits AirTrain will bring to our street,” Jones said. “We will be a major thoroughfare to AirTrain.”
If approved by the city, the BID would coincide with a $1.5 million Pedestrian Improvement Project for the same stretch of Sutphin Boulevard, where construction is scheduled to start next summer.
The possibility of attracting new companies to the area is even greater now after the World Trade Center’s destruction, because companies previously housed in the Twin Towers need to find new homes.
A major airline company, which was not identified by the BID steering committee, recently considered office space on Sutphin Boulevard but was not satisfied with its current appearance, steering committee members said.
“Many people are not attracted to Sutphin Boulevard now, but that will all change with AirTrain and the improvement project amenities,” said Joy Tomchin, the owner of a 50,000-square-foot office and retail building at 89-00 Sutphin Blvd. and chairman of the BID’s steering committee.
Although air traffic has slowed since the Sept. 11 attack, the impact on the airline industry should not be a permanent one, said Sam Samuels, a spokesman for Greater Jamaica Development Corp. Both the BID and the pedestrian project would benefit the community for several decades to come, long after the airline industry recovers, Samuels said.
The pedestrian project will include new sidewalks, trees and other landscaping, lighting and information kiosks. It is funded through the Federal Transportation Efficiency Act and the state Department of Transportation.
Greater Jamaica, a non-profit organization, applied for the grant and is providing technical assistance to property owners and merchants organizing the BID.
Once a BID is approved by the city, an assessment is added to the property owners’ real estate taxes and is turned over to the BID for operation.
Those funds will supplement city services along the boulevard, like trash cans, trees and other plants, maintaining the kiosks and “making sure the physical improvements continue to add to the general attractiveness of the street,” said Allison Jean, an economic development specialist at Greater Jamaica and project manager of the BID.
Sutphin Boulevard merchants who would like more information on the BID can contact Jean at 291-0282.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.