By Betsy Scheinbart
As the day approaches when the AirTrain opens in Jamaica and plans to transform Sutphin Boulevard into a corporate center begin to take shape, the parking problem in downtown Jamaica remains unsolved.
The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a non-profit organization, spent several years creating a long-term proposal to build a hotel, offices and parking garages in the area of the new Jamaica station, where the AirTrain will begin running to John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003.
But while the AirTrain and other transportation-oriented projects have received large state and federal grants, elected officials have merely wished Greater Jamaica good luck in its effort to create more parking spaces.
“So frequently government officials say ‘let them take the subway,’” said Carlisle Towery, president of Greater Jamaica. “It’s hard to convince government leaders to provide funds for parking.”
Towery said the organization’s vision for JFK Corporate Square is “a dream that we think we could work to make come true — a practical dream — and parking is one of the most necessary elements and one of the hardest to achieve.”
Towery noted that parking is already scarce in downtown Jamaica, where the state civil court, family court and central library are all located. “The demand is high and the supply is low.”
When the AirTrain and at least one new office building open on Sutphin Boulevard in 2003, the demand for parking will be even greater.
Although Jamaica is a major transfer point for both Long Island Rail Road and subway riders, travelers coming from northern Queens do not have the choice of taking a subway or the convenience of a LIRR connection in Jamaica.
“For people who have to drive there,” Towery said of Jamaica, “a car is not an option for them, it’s a necessity. We have to have adequate, affordable parking.”
He said in order to build a parking garage in Jamaica, Greater Jamaica needs 50 percent of the necessary funds laid out, just so the group can eventually break even on the project.
“It might have to come from the city capital or from the state or it could conceivably come from the Port Authority,” Towery said of the funds for parking. “We can finance the rest of it and we can build and operate it and keep it affordable.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey projected that many AirTrain riders would be employees at the airport.
“I believe that a lot of employees will use the AirTrain,” Towery said of airport workers. “They are paying for parking anyway — big time — it will probably be cheaper to park in Jamaica.”
In addition to the AirTrain, Greater Jamaica envisions new office and retail space drawing more people to Jamaica. The Metropolitan Transit Authority recently committed itself to occupying one third of a 10-story office buildings planned for a lot across the street from the AirTrain station.
Greater Jamaica proposed pairing that office building with a mixed-use office and retail building that would share a parking garage with the 10-story tower.
But plans for that commercial building, parking garage, and other efforts to change and develop the area around the new station are still up in the air and may depend on the support of new Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Towery said.
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.