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By Juan Soto

Downtown Jamaica is one of the neighborhoods benefitting from a state program that redevelops underused vacant lots, home in the past to gas stations, auto repair shops, junk yards, factories and similar poorly managed waste operations.

Known as Brownfield Opportunity Areas, the project cleans up these sites, usually in low-income areas, by removing dangerous contaminants and then redeveloping them.

Now the City Council is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include a $15 million allocation in state long-term funding. The 2014-15 state budget “has inexplicably eliminated funding” for the program, said Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), chairman of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection.

Emphasizing that the program plays “a vital role in restoring and revitalizing distressed communities and creating jobs,” the councilman insisted on the need to keep funding the Brownfield Opportunity Areas.

In Jamaica, the target area — mostly industrial and commercial — covers 40 blocks, containing a total of 616 properties, to the south of the Long Island Rail Road station, except for a stretch along Archer and Jamaica avenues north of the tracks.

“Community-supported brownfields reclamation is a sound investment towards public health, public safety and economic development,” Richards said.

In the last 12 months, two specific sites have been announced for redevelopment, specifically a hotel and a 400-unit building that includes 100 apartments of affordable housing and 80,000 square feet of retail space with underground parking.

The 24-story hotel will be erected at 93rd Street and Sutphin Boulevard.

Viral Patel, the Able Hotels chief executive officer, said last Thursday that the project “is still under planning.”

He added that the first hard hats are expected for some time next spring. Patel estimated that the building would be completed in late 2016 or early 2017.

Able Hotels operates two hotels, one in Plainview and the other one in Brentwood, both in Long Island.

Also, the Shops at the Station Plaza strip, at the Sutphin Boulevard underpass, was completed recently. The location used to be a dark loading dock under the LIRR Jamaica station. It was also the home for a print shop.

According to the report, “Jamaica Brownfield Opportunity Area Nomination Study,” the redevelopment of the target area will require collaboration from the “private sector, government and the nonprofit sectors, working with the community, to resolve issue where public concerns and private interests must be addressed.”

Carlisle Towerey, executive director of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., pointed out that this funding “allow distressed communities to create economic vitality in areas previously abandoned by private investment.”

Jody Kass, of the New Partners for Community Revitalization, said funding for Brownfield Opportunity Areas is key for the “economic regeneration projects in weak market areas.”

Richards pointed out “the program is crucial because it helps attract private resources to weak market areas that will remove dangerous contaminants from out neighborhoods.”

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 7187-260-4564.

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