On a beautiful, hot and sunny day in front of the historic façade of the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul announced the winning projects selected for the Jamaica Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI).
In August 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Downtown Jamaica was the winner of the $10 million DRI, a plan that looks to transform local neighborhoods into the next generation of communities. The winner was selected as part of a competitive process by the state’s Economic Development Council.
The projects that will be funded under the grant include a space for businesses, pedestrian plazas, infrastructure upgrades, support for dining options, increased broadband width and employment supports.
Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) will create a 10,000 square foot shared workspace for approximately 90 local entrepreneurs and independent professionals at the Moda Building. The LIRR 159th Street underpass will be converted into a pedestrian gateway between York College and Downtown Jamaica. The underpass will include vendor and event space, public art work and seating. Pedestrian, lighting and the streetscape will be improved along Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer Avenues. Jamaica’s broadband infrastructure, to support high speed delivery, will be strengthened. There will be funds to invigorate nightlife and dining options as well as an incubator space for new food businesses. Entrepreneurship training for low income residents to launch and grow their businesses and career preparation at Edison Career and Technical Education High School will help develop a qualified workforce.
“We still have a lot to do,” said Senator Leroy Comrie who delivered remarks at the announcement. On his to-do list was the initiative to ensure that “promotional dollars” were in place guaranteeing that any development was adequately populated.
In addition to this grant, Downtown Jamaica’s is seeing the infusion of revitalization dollars from the Jamaica Now Action Plan. Jamaica Now is a $153 million dollar investment from the City which will add upgrades to local parks, provide additional transit routes, redesigned store fronts and add new mixed income housing, retail stores and business incubator spaces.
Downtown Jamaica’s transit hub will be getting a boost as well with $8 million dollars in state allocated funds for upgrades to its transit hub. The Jamaica transit hub is one of the city’s busiest transit centers hosting the E,J and Z trains, numerous bus lines, the LIRR and AirTrain to JFK.
JFK International Airport, which is located just minutes from Downtown Jamaica, will also be revived with an influx of funds. Governor Cuomo announced $10 billion in funds last year to transform JFK and its connecting commuter links into a 21st Century airport redesign.
In addition, both the city and state have set goals that 30% of its awarded contracts should be allocated to Minority and Women Owned Businesses.
All this opportunity and redevelopment would seem a boom for local businesses and the area’s high unemployment rate, but challenges remain. “Unemployment is high,” acknowledged Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in her opening remarks at the podium. Along with the grant, Katz sited the Jamaica Now Plan and private funding as initiatives that can close the gaps.
But local businesses are challenged when it comes to working with the larger companies that are central in the revitalization of Downtown Jamaica. Thomas Crater, owner of newspaper ‘The New York Page’, frequently expresses frustration at his attempts to connect with GJDC and York College for possible funding avenues. It is a frustration shared by this news organization. “It’s hard,” Crater reported that Hope Knight President GJDC of said of the challenge of working with area black media businesses due to having no money. Knights’ resume includes as stint with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone whose chief area, Harlem, has recently experienced revitalization. Dr. Marcia Keizs, York College President, and Earl Simons, York College Director of Government and Community Relations were eager to set up a meeting, and receive proposals about types of partnerships.
Residents and community stakeholders who participated in the planning and provided recommendations for the Jamaica Now plan provided input stressing that it was vital any Downtown Jamaica revitalization touched the neighboring communities and include the main thoroughfares which connect the neighborhoods to Downtown Jamaica. A few members of the Leadership Council of the Jamaica Now Initiative did not want to speak on the record of their concerns of the early efforts of the program.
York College President, Dr. Marcia Keizs, serves on Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and has been credited with helping to secure the grant. The council was designed as a shift in the state’s effort towards economic development which includes a community-based approach that harnesses local expertise.
For more information on the seven winning projects, click here.