Downtown Jamaica, Queens, sees revitalization via two new construction projects

Downtown Jamaica has worked hard to reclaim its status as a destination for shoppers.

Now officials are hoping to make it a lively tourist hub, with plans for a dozen new hotels as well as residential towers and retail stores.

After decades of plans and proposals to revive the area, progress can be seen in two towers rising near Jamaica Station on Sutphin Boulevard.

One of those sites will hold a Fairfield Inn and Courtyard by Marriott with more than 300 rooms; and the other, a mixed income housing development.

Hope Knight, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, said the group hopes to attract travelers who would otherwise stay in hotels outside John F. Kennedy Airport, where there is little for them to do.

“Being able to stay in downtown Jamaica is a competitive advantage,” said Knight, who pointed out the AirTrain, subway and Long Island Rail Road all stop at Jamaica Station. “And they can get to Downtown Brooklyn or Penn Station in 20 minutes.”

The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, which works with private developers and government officials on projects, believes new hotels and housing will attract a more diverse array of commercial tenants.

It has not been an easy road for Jamaica streets, where large department stores such as Gertz, Macy’s and Mays were once located. The retail giants left by the end of the 1970s, when crime was higher and several storefronts sat empty.

Revitalization came slowly with new government office buildings and public-private partnerships. But the stores remained mostly low-end discount shops.

Over the past 15 years, national retail chains such as Gap and Old Navy joined Jamaica Avenue.

H&M is taking a 35,000-square-foot space, and Burlington Coat Factory also plans to open nearby.

Beyond the retail, two developments stand out in an area that still includes single-family homes, concrete mixing plants and live poultry and meat markets.

After buying 10 contiguous parcels of land near Archer Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard, the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation sold the property for $19.5 million. The purchaser, BRP Companies, plans to build 669 units of affordable housing, with ground-floor retail at that site.

Just south of the tracks, a 25-story building topped out in May. When completed, it will include 380 units of mixed-income housing.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie, who grew up in the area and graduated from Jamaica High School, said he is cautiously optimistic about all the changes.

“I’m encouraged that there is so much interest in finding positive development,” he said.

For Knight, the challenge is making sure all the pieces — retail, housing and hotels — come together at the same time.

Restaurants and retail may not want to take a chance on the area until they see an influx of new residents. But developers also need an appealing mix of neighborhood amenities to attract new residents.

“We want this corridor to have more of an 18-hour-a-day vibrance,” Knight said. “A lot of people work in Jamaica but leave at 5 p.m.”

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