A new hotel in Fresh Meadows is positioning itself to be the 21st-century Ellis Island of Queens.
The hotel will serve as a stepping stone for Chinese immigrants and students looking to stay in the country or study here, according to several people close to the planning. The 11-story Hilton hotel on 186th Street is set to open in May 2016 and the developers, Mayflower Business Group of Great Neck, are positioning their hotel to serve a mixture of Chinese businesspeople, students and immigrants who can use the hotel as a base while house hunting.
“There’s something happening with the Asian community and, specifically, something happening in China. There’s something going on,” said George Frangoulis, a spokesman for the developer. “They’re bringing in a lot of wealth. They’re enhancing and stimulating the Queens economy. It’s good for America.”
The announcement of the hotel stirred controversy in 2014. Residents complained that the 11-story building is too tall for a neighborhood of mostly one- and two-family homes. They also said that the hotel would cause traffic on local streets and overload the sewer system. But the hotel does not violate any building or zoning codes, which left residents unable to block the project from going forward.
Frangoulis met with concerned neighbors over the year to try to mend community relationships. During one of these meetings between the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Association, state Sen. Tony Avella and the developers, residents learned that part of the hotel would be used by foreign exchange students from China who will be studying in nearby schools like St. John’s University.
“This doesn’t really make any sense to us because Fresh Meadows isn’t exactly close to many schools,” said Jim Gallagher, president of the homeowners association.
But Frangoulis said the hotel will not serve as a dorm and any students who stay there would just be considered as normal hotel customers.
“I comply with every safety code. I’m a good neighbor. I’ll do anything I have to do to accommodate the community,” he said. “I’m doing everything properly. I understand their concern.”
Frangoulis also said that due to Flushing’s overcrowding, Fresh Meadows served as a good place for Chinese immigrants who are coming to the country but don’t have a place to stay in Flushing’s hotels. Unlike the usual image of immigrants as poor and desperate, Frangoulis characterized this new wave of immigrants as affluent and ready to invest in central Queens’ economy.
But Avella remained unconvinced.
“I support the community’s position that these hotels are out of context,” he said. “I’m always concerned about overdevelopment. And the fact that it’s across the street from one-family homes bothers me.”