BY TRONE DOWD
Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul—during her first visit to Jamaica in two years—announced this week the official plans for a $10 million grant awarded to Jamaica by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.
Joined by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz—who has proposed Jamaica as “the future of Queens” for more than two years—Hochul laid out a detailed plan at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center on Wednesday morning on how the state intends to invest in Jamaica in the coming years.
“This is a magnet for not just New York State, but the world,” Hochul said. “You have something so special here. People want to be here and that should be an amazing source of pride.”
The $10 million plan will go towards upgrading three pillars of Jamaica: transportation, tourism and technology. The upgrade will span across seven projects.
The first investment will involve the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation Co-Working Space. Operated in partnership with York College and GJDC, the 10,000 square-foot space is set to provide “affordable, flexible workspace and access to business equipment and services to start-ups, freelancers and other.” The space will be able to accommodate up to 90 users at the Moda Building, located at 153-50 89th Ave.
The grant will also be used to bring high-speed broadband internet to Downtown Jamaica by bridging “two gaps in the conduit pathway, so that new lines can be run to Jamaica,” Hochul said. This will provide the adequate internet service needed to operate start-ups in Jamaica.
Third, the Long Island Rail Road underpass located at 159th Street will be completely overhauled to include lighting, public art, seating and event space. The space will be designed for commercial use, allowing vendors to set up temporary stalls.
Jamaica Center will also receive a significant makeover, with an expansion of pedestrian space and lighting and streetscape improvements on Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer avenues.
Funding will be set aside to curate quality dining options and nightlife establishments and activities in Downtown Jamaica. Hochul said that creating this kind of experience is the key to making sure the people coming home from work in Jamaica have a reason to go back out at night. The funding will help establish fully-outfitted restaurant space and defray high industry startup costs.
Lastly, the grant will help fund entrepreneurship training programs to help low-income Jamaica residents launch and grow their own businesses. Hochul said that this part of the funding is meant to ensure that residents already living in Jamaica are participating in its growth.
The plans for the grant were formed by a local planning advisory committee as the result of a $300,000 allocation for a study on the area. The lieutenant governor said she was confident in the plans that were put together over the past year and that her hometown of Buffalo was another community in which Cuomo had invested during his tenure. On Tuesday, Buffalo was listed as the number-two community for startups in the nation, according to Entrepreneurial Magazine. Hochul hopes to produce similar results in Southeast Queens.
Katz praised the advisory committee.
“They spent so much time figuring out the great projects that we are funding,” Katz said. “I am excited that we are working towards getting the potential out of Jamaica that we all know existed. It has a major intermodal hub, with 14 bus lines, four subway lines, nine Long Island Rail Road lines and the Airtrain. Downtown Jamaica is a vibrant mixed-use community with major anchor institutions, including York College, St. John’s University, courthouses and key arts organizations.”
She also pointed to “a wave of public and private investment in the downtown area” as proof of the city and state’s realization of Jamaica’s potential. The community’s population has reached an all-time high of 155,000 residents, with 35 percent of that population being under the age of 24.
But Katz also pointed out that as Jamaica continues to grow, its unemployment rate has remained high among adults. Currently sitting at 14 percent, she said that investing part of the $10 million grant towards building employment opportunity would curb unemployment.
In August, Cuomo announced at JPAC that Jamaica was selected as one of the recipients for the state grant. The announcement was met with collective support from businesses, civic and elected leaders in Southeast Queens.