Expanding bus service between Jamaica and Flushing, extending the Air Train route to make traveling to the Resorts World Casino easier, adding hotels, office space and retail — these are just some of the ideas the Regional Plan Association envisions as possibilities for the future of Jamaica.
The RPA, an independent urban research and advocacy group, presented its ideas to the Greater Jamaica Development Corp., an organization dedicated to increasing commerce in the downtown area, at the group’s semi-annual meeting on Nov. 10.
The GJDC is in the process of doing some strategizing regarding the area and hoped the RPA could let members know if they’re on the right track — what Jamaica’s strengths are and the possible options for development and enhancement of the economic region, according to Andrew Manshel, executive vice president of the development group.
“They wanted a fresh perspective from an outsider, to spark conversations as they move forward,” said Hope Cohen, the RPA’s New York regional director, who made the presentation. “These are just ideas. Whether they will do anything with them remains to be seen.”
The suggestions represent a broader perspective on how downtown Jamaica, one of three regional business districts in the borough, can make investments to ensure the area thrives while protecting the existing character of neighboring communities.
More than 700,000 residents live in Southeast Queens, according to the RPA, and Jamaica has many strengths and tremendous potential for expansion, especially if the area takes advantage of both impending and possible development projects.
Jamaica’s downtown is a central hub providing access to the borough’s two major airports and connecting commuters to multiple modes of transportation including buses, trains and the Long Island Rail Road. It is also less than four miles from the newly opened and highly successful Resorts World Casino in South Ozone Park, where hotels and a convention center are planned.
In order to capitalize on the JFK International Airport Terminal 10 (AirTrain terminal) project, the RPA supports developing a nearby hotel and meeting space, office space, residential buildings and retail including restaurants and other amenities, endorsing a plan the GJDC has been proposing for many years, Cohen said.
The group also suggests taking advantage of the various cultures that already exist in the area and nearby communities, including people from Latin America, the Caribbean, West Indies and South Asia, as well as the Chinese and Korean communities in Flushing, to attract international tourists with specialized visitor and business services.
“We need a language institute to prepare our kids to get these jobs,” Edith Thomas, chairwoman of Community Board 12’s Economic Development Committee, said at the group’s Nov. 16 meeting as she reported on the RPA-GJDC forum. “Because if they can speak the language, there is no reason why they can’t be hired.”
The RPA sees several potentially related areas for growth including the hospitality industry, translation services, customized touring, pharmaceuticals, air freight and industrial uses and transportation uses.
The organization suggests expanding the Q25 or Q44 route into a direct, rapid bus service between Flushing and Jamaica to bring Chinese- and Korean-speaking employees to the downtown area. Another plan is to extend the AirTrain one-half mile from the Howard Beach terminal to access the Resorts World Casino directly from the main area of JFK and Terminal 10.
Another RPA idea is to take advantage of NextGen, an upgrading of air-traffic-control systems to satellite-based technology, planned for JFK and LaGuardia airports in 2018, by starting to train people now for work in that industry including software development, testing and manufacturing and simulator design and construction.
There will also be new opportunities for expansion, according to the RPA, after the East Side Access project, set to begin in 2018, is completed, connecting the LIRR to and from Grand Central terminal in Manhattan. It will increase LIRR service, trains and capacity, possibly drawing more commuters into the Jamaica transportation nexus.
“There is a wonderful synergy going on here, if you’re able to take advantage of it,” Thomas said, later adding, “While all these people are making their money, don’t sit back here and think the only thing we can do is ask for a job, because we are going to be left out. We have to prepare.”
Further, the RPA suggests making Jamaica a more centralized area by attracting a manufacturing incubator serving a business such as a food, cosmetics or pharmaceuticals manufacturer to the site of the former Wonder Bread bakery, which closed last year.
“We are seeking to energize people,” Cohen said. “To give them a new way of looking at things.”