Jamaica developers revisit downtown plan

By Courtney Dentch

The organization presented its updated “Vision for Jamaica” plan at its members' meeting Feb. 11, detailing the need for a mixed-use district near the Jamaica Station of the AirTrain rail link to Kennedy Airport.

The plan, originally announced in 2000 and updated at last week's meeting, is Greater Jamaica's proposal for turning the area surrounding the AirTrain station at Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue into a vibrant transit and commercial hub. The group is also working to establish JFK Corporate Square, an off-airport site for air industry support services, said Peter Engelbrecht of Greater Jamaica.

“This is our guide for transforming the downtown, and it is based on the arrival of AirTrain in Jamaica and the idea that this downtown could be a center for off-airport development,” he said.

The initial plan called for office, hotel and convention space to be built around and even above the AirTrain station, he said. But in re-examining its vision, Greater Jamaica realized it would have to think bigger and include retail and housing components as well as a plan for cleaning up Jamaica.

“It was always assumed that there would be retail there, but we didn't have a real focus on it,” said another Greater Jamaica representative. “In talking to investors, we found that retail was very important in terms of making Jamaica attractive to them.”

Jamaica's retail potential has changed since the opening of the Jamaica Center complex in 2002. National chains such as the Gap and Old Navy moved in and have been attracting shoppers, Engelbrecht said.

To provide interested stores with even more consumers, Greater Jamaica's vision also includes a push for affordable housing, said Susan Deutsch.

“It would complement the hotel component and support the commercial goals there,” she said of housing. “The restaurants, retail and entertainment cannot be supported by offices alone.”

The proposal also includes parking provisions.

Greater Jamaica has been meeting with retailers and private investors to lure them to Jamaica and discover what obstacles lie in the way.

One problem is the persistent myth that downtown Jamaica is unsafe, said Jessica Baker of Greater Jamaica.

“Areas surrounding Jamaica and the AirTrain are not hospitable to private investors yet,” she said. “It does not feel secure to outsiders and it needs some work. The area is not a magnet for serious crime but for quality-of-life crimes that make the area feel like it's worse than it is.”

Baker has been heading a quality-of-life task force, which meets with city and state agencies to clean up the community.

Greater Jamaica is also battling proposals to transform the AirTrain, which now terminates in Jamaica so passengers can transfer to the Long Island Rail Road or the subway into a non-stop link from Kennedy Airport to Manhattan, said Carlisle Towery, president of Greater Jamaica.

“Some people are looking for a seamless connection, but we have said we want some seams in it, please,” he said. “We want to work hard with the Port Authority and others to capitalize on the new development so Jamaica benefits, which it won't if it doesn't stop here.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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