The event comes two weeks after the unveiling of JamaicaNOW, the city’s plan to revitalize downtown Jamaica via a series of sweeping initiatives totaling $153 million in public funding.
“It is an amazing time for Jamaica, Queens,” said Borough President Melinda Katz during her keynote address. “I always say we already have an amazing neighborhood. In addition to the business here, and in addition to the strategic investment we’re trying to foster today, we also are clearly a neighborhood of families.
“It’s part of our job moving forward to balance the need for a community, for families and for business investment,” she added.
Organizers of the event said there was vast potential for businesses to open up along Jamaica Avenue and neighboring streets, with over 260,000 commuters traveling the thoroughfare each day.
Organizers specifically pointed to the dearth of restaurant options, with only two sit-down dining options available in Downtown Jamaica.
“I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that this is truly an exciting time for Jamaica,” said Small Business Services Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer. “The JamaicaNOW plan will continue to build Jamaica into becoming a dynamic neighborhood and a center for economic activity.
“We’re so excited about the potential of the people in this room to come together for the benefit of this community,” she added.
Following the presentations and speeches, attendees were taken on a tour of 30 available commercial spaces in downtown Jamaica.
The JamaicaNOW plan includes a diverse roster of initiatives, including public-transportation improvements, jobs programming and cultural development.
The plan will be completed on varying timelines in the coming years, but numerous projects are slated for completion within the next three, including the establishment of the Jamaica Arts Alliance, implementation of a Select Bus Service route from Jamaica to Flushing, and new job training.
Drew Greenwald, principal of developer Grid Properties, said he thought a stronger economy and more vibrant business landscape in Jamaica started with renovations to the main retail shops.
“In terms of income levels and income density, Jamaica looks great,” he said. “This is an exciting market with exciting opportunities, but we have to get past some historically negative impressions of streets and areas.”
He said he believed renovations to the main shopping district would greatly revitalize the community.
The JamaicaNOW action plan has allocated funds for improving the appearance of storefronts, specifically on Sutphin Boulevard, and later for Hillside Avenue and other key corridors. Those renovations are slated for completion within three years.
“The impression one gets [on Jamaica Avenue] is not a retail strip in the 21st century, but a retail strip that’s dated,” Greenwald said.