By Courtney Dentch
At the Jan. 14 event, Greater Jamaica honored some of the Port Authority leaders who helped make the connection between Jamaica and Kennedy Airport a reality as well as the chief executive for HSBC Bank USA, which provided a grant to create the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District outside the AirTrain terminal.
“Of importance and particular pride to the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. is the promise of growth that the AirTrain holds,” said Greater Jamaica Chairman Tazewell Smith. “We hope it will facilitate new growth in this area.”
Greater Jamaica has been a staunch supporter of the AirTrain for about three decades, long before it was called AirTrain, said Carlisle Towery, the group's president. The light rail link, which opened Dec. 17, connects passengers at Kennedy Airport with mass transportation options in downtown Jamaica and Howard Beach.
“There are almost 3 million people in Queens, and this is the first step in providing a one-seat ride and serving the people of Queens,” said Joseph Seymour, executive director of the Port Authority and one of the gala's honorees.
Riders now must transfer to the subway or Long Island Rail Road for service into Manhattan, but Gov. George Pataki was expected to unveil options to connect Kennedy Airport to Lower Manhattan later this week.
The AirTrain has pleased many in the air travel industry, including David Neeleman, chief executive of Forest Hills-based JetBlue Airways.
“I can't tell you how many times I've driven down the Van Wyck and watched that thing coming together. I am excited about this,” he said. “We have a bigger terminal coming to accommodate our 21 million customers. Hopefully, the vast majority of them will come through here to get to the airport.”
But for those in Jamaica, the AirTrain has been touted as a great tool for revitalization.
“Wherever you have transportation improvements, you have economic development,” said PA Vice Chairman Charles Gargano, another honoree. “You can expect that here in Jamaica as well. We see a lot of good things happening here in Jamaica.”
One example has been the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District, which was officially created in December. The BID, which stretches from Hillside Avenue down to the AirTrain station at 94th Avenue, will use funds from property owners to make the commercial strip safer, cleaner and more appealing to shoppers. HSBC Bank, whose U.S. head was honored at the gala, provided a grant to help get the BID established.
“People don't associate us as being a local bank,” said Martin Glynn, president and chief executive of HSBC Bank USA. “As we get more and more local, we also get bigger and bigger. We're committed to this community and supporting Jamaica as it grows.”
And as the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. saluted business and government leaders for helping to improve Jamaica, those leaders, in turn, honored the group and Towery for their work advancing the area.
“If not for all your work, your calls pushing your vision here, chances are we would not be standing here but in a vacant lot surrounded by urban decay,” said Diana Taylor, state superintendent of banks.
But Greater Jamaica is already pursuing other goals, including the JFK Corporate Square project, which would create office, conference and hotel space for those in the air industry who may not need to have a location at Kennedy Airport, Towery said.
“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible,” he said. “We invite you to share our vision of JFK Corporate Square. You may see blight, but we see sites. You may see problems. We see potential.”
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.