Forest Hills enjoys boost in business with FEMA arrival

Photo by Steve Mosco

The urgent need for federal help in the city following Hurricane Sandy has led to the creation of a federal disaster nerve center in a once bustling Forest Hills office building that used to house airline company JetBlue.

And now local businesses also are getting a boost.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved into a 200,000-square-foot space in the Forest Hills Tower, at 118-29 Queens Blvd., a spot once held by passenger carrier JetBlue. The building will serve as city headquarters for FEMA over the next several months and provides a short-term administrative solution in close proximity to airports and other transportation options.

There will be no on-site access to the general public because FEMA will use space on 10 full floors solely for administrative offices. This means lots of new customers for coffee shops, bagel stores and food marts on the block.

“Business was way down after JetBlue left the building,” said the owner of a convenience store three doors down from the Forest Hills Tower. “This is a busy area, but the building was very good for my business.”

When JetBlue left Forest Hills for its new headquarters in Long Island City in April, Mini LLC, a small coffee shop in the building, took a big hit and lost many of its customers. The man working at the counter, who said his boss would not let him give his name, said FEMA employees were a welcomed sight and a boon to business.

Matt Davidov, owner of Hot Bialys & Bagels, a block away from the office building, said his shop used to be busy, thanks to JetBlue customers, who accounted for at least 30 percent of his business.

“It’s a temporary thing,” he said. “But it is still a good thing.”

Jason Muss, principal of Muss Development, the real estate company leasing the building, noted that the short-term lease with FEMA will not affect ongoing discussions for the space with other potential tenants, who understand the temporary nature of this unique and critical requirement.

“Throughout our company’s history, Muss Development has maintained a commitment to civic responsibility,” Muss said. “Forest Hills Tower is a superb Class A venue that perfectly suits FEMA for extending its critical reach throughout our area affected by the hurricane. We are proud to have been able to act swiftly to meet their needs.”

Reflecting FEMA’s urgent need to establish a conveniently situated base of operations for overseeing its broad scope of federal emergency-related activities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Muss and the agency closed the transaction within a 48-hour period.

A FEMA representative said the space is the Joint Field Office for the agency and the nerve center in the response to Hurricane Sandy. It comprises representatives from all the federal, state and volunteer agencies involved in the response and recovery.

The representative also said that while the Joint Field Office is in Forest Hills, the most important work continues to take place within the 13 declared counties of New York, the 31 Disaster Recovery Centers and the more than 1,000 community relations professionals going door-to-door, helping survivors with their registrations and answering their questions.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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