Tag Archives: GJDC

GJDC president reflects on Jamaica’s transformation

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

File photos

When F. Carlisle Towery first took the helm as president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) in 1971, he knew a major challenge was coming.

The area was heading into the “disinvestment decade,” and downtown Jamaica’s anchoring department store giants were fleeing the area.

Towery and the GJDC fought to keep the chains, but Macy’s departed in 1978 after its lease expired to build a bigger store in a mall. Gertz exited the area in 1981 after its lease expired and Mays, which owned its building, closed its doors a few years later as well.

“We had some real serious economic trauma, because those are anchors and when they leave, lots of small stores follow,” Towery said. “Back then downtowns were going out of style and everyone was moving to malls. I’ve often said Jamaica was mall-ed.”

Now, Jamaica has transformed into one of the most attractive options for developers in New York. The downtown is buzzing with private development — and Towery is finally retiring after 43 years.

F. Carlisle Towery

F. Carlisle Towery

“I’m very comfortable and pleased,” Towery said. “It’s a great thing to look back at all these partnerships and gratitude. And more importantly I’m not leaving where I’ve got nostalgia to consume. I’m looking forward as the table is set.”

From 1978 to 1996, private investment in Jamaica totaled just $17 million. Compare that with the $364 million that has been invested in the last three years, and it’s clear how just far the neighborhood has come since 1971.

Back then, not only the stores, but also The Long Island Daily Press closed, and two banks headquartered in the area also moved to Long Island, Towery said.

Towery credits a number of strong public initiatives in Jamaica in the past few decades with leading to the rebuilding of the downtown.

Over the years, the GJDC persistently advocated what he calls “pre-developments” through seven mayors and eight governors, dating back to John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller, and the federal government to attract more private investment.

This includes removing the Jamaica Avenue El and extending the subway to Parsons Boulevard, which created the transportation hub of the current downtown, and moving York College into the neighborhood instead of alternative sites.

The GJDC supported building the new regional headquarters for the U.S. Social Security Administration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, two federal entities that brought jobs into Jamaica, and creating the business improvement districts in the downtown to focus on the growth of local stores and companies.

The nonprofit also advocated for the AirTrain from John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003, which further expanded Jamaica’s transportation hub.

Towery believes that what Jamaica is missing is more housing developments, as the GJDC worked for decades to make the area more attractive through non-housing initiates.

And because of the rapid growth of the AirTrain, which had 4.3 million riders from Jamaica last year compared to 1.1 million a decade ago, he said Jamaica should build more hotels, too.

That’s where he expects developers to focus with new projects, and he plans to “stay tuned” to the future.



New hotel adds to downtown Jamaica development

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of GJDC

Downtown Jamaica development is continuing to climb – 24 stories up– with a new, 210-room hotel.

The hotel will be built at 93-43 Sutphin Boulevard, across the street from the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road station, the E and J subway lines and the John F. Kennedy International Airport AirTrain.

The $35 million project is another addition in the efforts to develop downtown Jamaica.

“No other neighborhood in New York offers the convenience of a wide array of commercial and retail outlets, combined with subways, the Long Island Rail Road, buses and the AirTrain providing quick and easy access to [the] airport just a 10-minute ride away,” said Carlisle Towery, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC).

GJDC owns a portion of the site with the financial support of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Another portion is owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The MTA’s Finance Committee and the full board both approved of the hotel proposal last week.

The hotel, complete with a full-service restaurant and ground floor retail space, will be built and managed by Able Management Group, a Long Island-based developer. Able Hotels has agreed to pay $4.5 million to purchase the entire property.

“The location is well-suited for a hotel,” said Viral Patel, Able Hotels CEO. “We look forward to successful completion of the project and becoming part of the downtown Jamaica business community.”
Patel also said the group is “excited about this project and furthering the vision set forth for downtown Jamaica by GJDC.”

Legal steps will be taken to finalize the contract with Able Hotel, said a GJDC spokesperson. If all goes well, construction is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2014.



Sheraton coming to Jamaica

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Andrew Levenbaum, P.E.

Downtown Jamaica development is under way with the official announcement of a Four Points Sheraton hotel headed to the area.

After the economic downturn of a few years ago, development and investment interest is at long last picking back up, said Laurel Brown, executive director of the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District (BID).

“There is a lot of untapped potential down here. We’re seeing people latch onto that,” she said. “Having Sheraton invest in Jamaica just underscores exactly what we’re saying.”

The 150-room hotel is expected to go up on 94th Avenue near 147th Street, one block away from JFK International Airport’s AirTrain and the Long Island Railroad transportation hub. Groundbreaking is projected for later this year or early 2014, according to Andrew Levenbaum, P.E., the architect for the project.

Community leaders hope that the addition of a well-known name such as Sheraton will bring fliers as well as a more diverse crowd to the area.

Simone Price, executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard BID, said it also had the potential to elevate interest for other businesses to plant roots in Jamaica.

“People always want to see someone else come into the district first,” she said. The Sheraton “will be a great launching pad.”

Price added the hotel will give southeast Queens its first meeting and event space as well as job opportunities.

The BIDs and the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) are still in talks with various businesses in hopes of getting them to lease space in the area, Brown said.

CityRib, a new Manhattan-based barbecue eatery, is slated to open in the neighborhood as well. Brown said the high-end restaurant will give residents and visitors a different option in a community dominated by fast-food chains.



New department store coming to Jamaica

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of GJDC

Some 35 years ago, if you lived in Brooklyn or Queens and wanted to shop, Jamaica was the place to go. The retail hub has since declined, with those department stores still standing all closed. The neighborhood is looking to make a comeback with a new department store and other development.

“This will build up the economy of the whole region,” said Fred Winters, spokesperson for the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC). “Other stores want to be close to the department store. This is a very big deal.”

The site of the store is bordered by 90th Street, 169th Street, Jamaica Avenue and Merrick Boulevard. A 160,000-square-foot retail space will dominate one side of the street, with a 500-car garage on the other side. Construction is expected to start in about two years.

Blumenfeld Development Group (BDG), a leading retail developer in the metropolitan area, is taking on the project in cooperation with GJDC. Other sites built by BDG include Manhattan’s East River Plaza and The Arches in Deer Park on Long Island.

“To build the space with a department store in mind is a very big deal,” Winters said. “There aren’t many sites in Jamaica that are appropriate for a department store anymore.”

“It symbolizes the way greater Jamaica and all the other civic groups have helped Jamaica really turn a corner economically,” he added.



New developments on their way to downtown Jamaica

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of GJDC

Development organizations are hoping to give downtown Jamaica a face-lift by bringing an entirely new mix of stores and restaurants to cater to the needs of large businesses and residents alike.

The Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District (BID), Jamaica Center BID, 165th Street MIA and Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) have been working for years to attract business owners and ultimately revamp the area.

“There’s so much to offer in downtown Jamaica, and we just feel like people are really unaware,” said Simone Price, executive director of Sutphin BID.

To get their mission across, the groups organized an event called Jamaica Revealed. They invited dozens of area property owners and commercial real estate brokers to connect with prospective business operators.

The attendees took a trolley tour of the downtown area and were able to view vacant commercial spaces.

“This is a major investment and a major transformation of the area,” said GJDC President Carlisle Towery.

GJDC is focusing on three sites throughout the development area. There is a location at the intersection of Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue that will become a 200-room hotel; a site on Parsons Boulevard that is hoped to be turned into a 200-seat sit-down restaurant; and a housing, retail and office space, according to representative Justin Rogers.

“Things are really happening in downtown Jamaica,” he said. “Development has been cleared to take off.”

Price said the groups hope to attract sit-down restaurants, office supply stores, artisanal food stores, furniture retailers and upscale shops to the area.

Sara Herbstman owns a site on 161st Street that will soon be transformed into two residential towers.

“With all of the support that is being talked about, the development will be successful,” she said. “Jamaica is a major transportation hub, and it’s underutilized. It has all the potential to be successful.”



Nonprofit brings ‘Greene’ to Jamaica

| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Dan Greene

For many commuters who travel between Long Island and Manhattan, Jamaica is just a stop along the journey. But for Dan Greene, it’s much more than a transit hub.

Greene has developed a passion for Jamaica’s economic development. He has so much interest in the area that in May he became chairman of the board of directors of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC).

Previously, he was vice chairman and has been a board member since 2007.

Greene, 54, who lives in Greenlawn, Long Island and works in the banking industry, has had many business associates in the Jamaica community. He thought that volunteering on the board was an opportunity for him to “get to know the community better.”

Greene hopes to continue to build on the decades of work the nonprofit organization has been doing since it was founded in 1967, and to improve the quality of life of southeast Queens through economic development. As chairman, it’s important for Greene and others on the board to represent the people who live and work in the community, he said.

The GJDC was one of several organizations that pushed heavily for the AirTrain terminal, which connects Jamaica Station to JFK Airport. The terminal, which opened in 2003, helped with Jamaica’s economic development. In the last several decades Jamaica has really been transformed into a pedestrian area, said Greene.

He plans on working hard to make the community more welcoming to businesses, including helping small shops become more successful and attracting big box stores and chains, such as Home Depot, Marshalls and Applebee’s, that might be a good fit for the area.

Recently, GJDC helped create retail space underneath the LIRR underpass on Sutphin Boulevard. Before, he said, it was an uninviting space. More businesses mean more jobs and more shopping options for the community, noted Greene.

The GJDC is also looking to improve the area’s residential and hospitality offerings. The former Queens Family Court on 89th Avenue and Parsons Boulevard was recently renovated and turned into 346 low, middle and market rate rental units, and there are plans for a hotel at Suphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue, near the Jamaica LIRR station.

Greene is proud of the all the work the GJDC has done, and enjoys helping Jamaica become more welcoming.

“The best thing about the job is to see the results,” he said.


Congressmember Meeks refutes reports of financial wrongdoing

| lguerre@queenscourier.com

The Courier/photo by Liam La Guerre

A local politician refuted published reports of financial wrongdoing concerning a nonprofit organization to whom he allocated millions in taxpayer money.

Congressmember Gregory Meeks denied that federal authorities are investigating him for any issues with federal funds he secured for the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC).

Instead, he blasted a local newspaper and national group for targeting Democrats.

“I’ve never been investigated in regards to this investigation,” Meeks said in an appearance on Good Day NY. “I don’t know why the [New York] Post headline says ‘Feds question Meeks.’ I’ve never been questioned.”

Meeks said The New York Post and the National Legal Policy Center (NLPC), a group dedicated to promoting ethics, are actually in “cahoots” and come up with “ridiculous stories” in an attempt to take down Democrats.

“They are going after President [Barack] Obama,” Meeks explained.

Recently, the NLPC has reported on corruption stories involving various Democratic leaders, but the group said it reports objectively.

“We’re not out to get anybody, we’re a non partisan organization,” Carl Horowitz, a project manager of NLPC, said. “We don’t play party favorites.”

Horowitz added, “We don’t particularly care what the race or the party system is. We do believe the smaller the government is the less opportunity for corruption.”

The reported allegations of Meeks stem from a New York Post exclusive article, which said the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a subpoena to the GJDC.

A representative of the organization confirmed the subpoena was received about six months ago and the GJDC complied with the federal office’s requests. However, the group said they were not the target of the subpoena and the federal office did not inform them who was.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not identify the target of the investigation to the GJDC,” said spokesperson Fred Winters. “Greater Jamaica cooperated fully at that time. It was for documentation. They [the GJDC] turned over everything that the U.S. Attorney is looking for.”

Robert Nardoza of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Eastern District refused to comment on the target of the subpoena.

Meeks has worked closely with the GJDC on several projects to develop areas in Jamaica. He has helped secure some of their grants.

One of these projects includes $9.2 million to transform an LIRR underpass from a dark corridor to a lit shopping arcade.

The project was completed about a month ago and tenants have yet to move into the shops because of minor problems with the buildings, which contractors have to finish first.

“You can’t move people into a site which they are still working on,” Winters said. “Greater Jamaica has made arrangements with two cultural intuitional groups [BroLab and chashama] to occupy it when it’s available.”

Meeks helped the GJDC get $21 million in tax credits to complete housing, retail shops and a hotel near the Jamaica LIRR area, according to the Post article.

The Post’s piece also reported that Greater Jamaica failed to develop a building it purchased from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey for $2.7 million since 2004, and has until August 20 to locate a developer or the Port Authority would retake the building.

“The Port Authority has given the GJDC more time to develop a site that been troublesome for some time now,” Winters confirmed. “The economy and finances for funding new development have been very difficult. We just put out a new request for proposals.”

Meeks has had a history with the Post, which published reports of his alleged corruption concerning a charity to help Hurricane Katrina victims in 2010, and an unreported $40,000 he borrowed from a friend in 2007.

But Meeks said he has been cleared of charges in those investigations.

“There have been no reports by the city and Port Authority about missing money,” Meeks said. “We all are focused on trying to make sure that Greater Jamaica does what it’s been doing and that is creating opportunities and development, especially commercial development, for the people.”

Working to bring Jamaica back to the heights

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


Forty-five years ago, America’s downtown urban centers began a spiral of decay as jobs, shopping and housing moved out along new and planned highways to the suburbs.  Among the urban centers that suffered this fate was Downtown Jamaica, Queens.

Until the 1960s, Downtown Jamaica was a thriving and major urban center of commerce, government and entertainment for the New York City region.  With a history going back to the 1600’s and including one of nation’s first railroad hubs, Jamaica has long been a center of commerce, transportation and government. In the 20th Century major roads and mass transit lines made the Downtown area highly accessible and convenient.  It was home to key government institutions, headquarters banks and insurance companies, a prominent afternoon newspaper, a major retail corridor on Jamaica Avenue, three department stores including the first Macy’s outside of Manhattan, numerous professional offices with practices serving Long Island and the first modern supermarket, King Kullen.  The Downtown even featured an impressive Spanish Baroque movie palace called the Loew’s Valencia Theater, drawing thousands of moviegoers each year.  By the end of World War II, Downtown Jamaica was an unrivaled hub of retail, finance, with commercial and professional activity in New York City and its environs. Since the 1920’s southeast Queens has been one of the country’s largest middle-class African-American enclaves – with a proud record of serving as home to many of the county’s most important figures in jazz. It continues to have the city’s highest percentage of homeowners.

However, by the 1960s, Downtown Jamaica began experiencing decline.  Regional shopping malls encircled it, siphoning off retail activity.  All three of Downtown Jamaica’s department stores, major banks, and many professional offices, industries and their related jobs and economic activity moved out.  The Downtown suffered from the loss of its largest employer, Ideal Toys, several movie theaters and the headquarters of its regional newspaper, The Long Island Press.  Racial and economic segregation exacerbated the public’s uncertainties about the Downtown.  By the 1980s, neglect and poverty characterized what was once a vital regional center.

In 1967, a group of visionary business and community leaders — motivated by Regional Plan Association’s assessment of Jamaica’s needs and potentials — came together to form the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC), with significant support from the Lindsay administration, which made Jamaica a focus of its economic development efforts, in order to combat the forces of decline.  Among New York City’s first community development corporations, GJDC and its partners have worked to revitalize Downtown Jamaica as a vibrant and sustainable center of commerce, entrepreneurship and culture in the New York City region – a dynamic community in which people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to work and raise their families.

In partnership with City and State government, GJDC — a not-for-profit local development organization — prepared, with community participation and civic leadership, plans to revitalize Downtown Jamaica.  It advocated building on the Downtown’s transportation infrastructure assets to attract new investments, jobs, housing, cultural and civic activity and economic development.  This strategy included:

Creation and advocacy of a thoughtful, cohesive plan for sustainable development, supported by a consensus of key stakeholders and partners;

  1. Creation of a favorable economic environment that attracts and supports private investments to Downtown, the key to sustainable job creation and entrepreneurship;
  2. Accommodating public investments in regional facilities and infrastructure to support economic activity and growth in the Downtown.

Today, GJDC provides leadership in promoting and managing growth, working to attract new businesses and developers to invest in the Downtown’s emerging opportunities.  It provides businesses and property owners the assistance and tools needed to succeed, and it advocates for public policy and support needed to realize the full potential of Downtown Jamaica as a regional center for economic and entrepreneurial activity.  In particular, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation’s Business Services Group (BSG) provides a range of services to small businesses in southeast Queens; with a focus on industrial firms. The BSG manages a small business loan program; providing from $30,000 to $30,000 in capital to nearly bankable area firms. The goal is to retain and attract well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Now on the cusp of substantial growth, the Downtown also faces daunting challenges from the ongoing economic downturn, which has dampened the pace of development and caused high rates of local home foreclosures.  Private investment and mixed-use projects have been stalled; including hotels, new retail and commercial space, a park, several hundred units of housing and public parking.

The recentclosing of Mary Immaculate Hospital cost Jamaica 1,200 jobs and has had a major impact on the provision of essential health services throughout Southeast Queens.  GJDC is especially concerned about the uncertain future of this vacated campus, which has tremendous potential for productive re-use. The campus was sold at auction in a bankruptcy proceeding. GJDC is monitoring proposed re-uses to prevent the campus from uses that might have negative effects on Jamaica. GJDC’s goal is to see that that property is put to its highest and best use.  Similar problems face the former Hostess industrial bakery in the Downtown, which closed recently and now sits idle.

Despite these obstacles, GJDC is encouraged that the Downtown has continued to move forward on several fronts, fueling its optimism about Jamaica’s future.  Significant strides have been made during the last five years, notwithstanding considerable economic headwinds. Promising infrastructure improvements and pre-development work are in place, which will position available sites recently re-zoned for mixed-use projects for development as market conditions improve.  In addition, GJDC efforts were instrumental in attracting several new retailers to the Downtown, including Verizon Wireless, Applebee’s and Gap Generation and Associated Supermarket. Several sites for housing are being cleared.

While recent years have seen the closing of the two major facilities in Jamaica and the loss of several hundred jobs, the area also seen the  steady realization of the Downtown’s transformation into a vibrant, multi-cultural business and residential community – highlighted by the recent openings of the substantial Moda mixed-use development, Applebee’s restaurant, new offices on Sutphin Boulevard and 161st Street, retail expansions on Jamaica Avenue, and the opening of the City’s magnificent Jamaica Performing Arts Center. Several small hotels have been built and others are planned. A new taxi dispatch system at Jamaica Station/AirTrain has improved chaotic conditions there.

GJDC recognizes that successful downtowns are increasingly those that engage in high value-added, knowledge-rich activities. In the 21st century, successful world cities and their communities will be those that provide efficient access to other centers of information and capital.

The businesses and institutions that will be the future of Downtown Jamaica and Southeast Queens are those that draw on this region’s strengths.

  • The key to Jamaica’s future development is clearly the AirTrain rail connection to JFK International Airport. Aviation is essential to the continued health of Queens, where it is the largest private sector employer, as well as to the entire New York City metropolitan area. The nearby international airport serves as a gateway to the world; especially for the vital financial services industry. Ensuring that Jamaica puts its best face forward to greet the hundreds of thousands of travelers who pass through the Downtown and will want to experience what it has to offer – its shops, restaurants and the other retail businesses that are at the core of Jamaica’s economic well-being — is high on GJDC’s agenda.
  • York College continues to grow, with improved admissions criteria, increasing enrollment, new faculty, and new academic programs. A planned Student Support and Conference Center and a new CUNY School of Pharmacy are an essential part of the College’s new Master Plan, which is now being implemented. Its partnerships with the on-campus U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CUNY Aviation Institute at York College, and the aviation industry, remain central to its mission.
  • With York College and St. John’s University, the U.S. FDA, Queens Borough Public Library, Queens Hospital Center, and Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Jamaica is well-positioned to benefit from and contribute to the economic changes now taking place.

Working with government, community, corporate and foundation partners –New York City and New York State, the Queens Borough President, major airlines and many others – GJDC is actively persisting in placing Jamaica on the right side of these new and important developments. Its commitment remains steadfast: to expand economic opportunity and improve quality of life for the ethnically and economically diverse residents of Jamaica and for the region.

The obstacles of recent years– home foreclosures, small businesses’ struggling to find credit and customers, high job losses – have tested GJDC’s mission and its mettle. Most recently, several key private projects have stalled, due principally to a lack of debt capital available for project construction. But even with these challenges, recent years have demonstrated the continued strengths of the Downtown. Retail vacancies are few, and rents on Jamaica Avenue are as high as $150 per square foot. Indeed, Jamaica attracts shoppers from around the region and the Caribbean interested in sophisticated urban fashion. One of the county’s most successful architectural practices has moved its offices to an attractively adaptively re-used storefront office space. Several high quality primary care health facilities have relocated to Jamaica. 350 units of newly built high quality mixed-income housing are fully occupied. Despite misperceptions, Downtown Jamaica is safe, clean, attractive and vibrant.

By addressing these challenges, with the active involvement of its public and private partners, GJDC’s has advanced   ambitious development plans, overcoming development obstacles and misperceptions held by decision-makers of this Downtown’s exceptional potentials.