QUEENS — Jamaica is becoming a hotel haven.
The neighborhood, once plagued with crime and despair, is now profiting from its proximity to JFK airport, the AirTrain station that opened in 2003 and access to express trains to Manhattan and the Long Island Rail Road.
It's set to double the number of hotel rooms in the area.
A new Howard Johnson hotel that opened earlier this month on Archer Avenue, directly behind the AirTrain station, is the latest major chain to open an outpost in the area, joining Quality Inn, Ramada and Super 8.
“The reason we chose this location is that it’s easy to commute to the airport,” said the owner, Vipul Patel. “It also takes only 30 minutes to Manhattan by subway and it's even faster by the LIRR.”
The new seven-story hotel brought 61 new hotel rooms to downtown Jamaica, increasing the total number of rooms in the area to about 350, according to statistics provided by the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a local nonprofit development group.
“Hoteliers are learning what we have always known, that Jamaica is uniquely well-situated for travelers who don’t want to pay Manhattan prices but want easy access to the city, and in increasing numbers, are taking advantage of AirTrain to JFK,” said Carlisle Towery, president of Greater Jamaica.
Two additional hotels planned for downtown Jamaica are expected to double the current number of rooms.
Four Points by Sheraton is being built on 94th Avenue, near 147th Street, only one block away from the AirTrain station. The 150-room hotel is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
The construction of another $35 million hotel planned near the Jamaica AirTrain station, is expected to begin early next year. The 24-story hotel will bring 210 new rooms to the area, a sit-down restaurant and a business center.
Rob MacKay, director of public relations, marketing and tourism at the Queens Economic Development Corporation, said the neighborhood has been changing and attracting more businesses.
“Jamaica in general has become safer and more viable place to stay and to do business, and as a result hotels and other companies are putting their money into Jamaica,” he said.
He also noted that there have always been hotels in the area, "but some of them have been really low class, including places where there is prostitution and where they rent rooms by the hour,” he said.
Now, as higher-priced hotels are moving in to the neighborhood, Jamaica joins Long Island City and Flushing, which have a high concentration of places providing accommodations for tourists, MacKay said.
Each of the neighborhoods, he noted, caters to different types of travelers.
Long Island City, which according to MacKay went from one hotel six years ago to 21 right now, attracts mostly tourists from Europe, Canada and Australia, who stay about six days on average. “The reason why they go to Long Island City is because it’s only one stop from Manhattan, but it’s $100-150 a night cheaper,” he said.
The Flushing area, MacKay said, caters mostly to travelers from Asia, while Jamaica, because of its proximity to the airport, meets the needs of people who missed their flight or have a layover, but it also serves travelers attending business meetings. The average stay in the area is 1.2-1.5 nights per customer, according to MacKay.
Prices in chain hotels in Jamaica are often similar to those in Long Island City.
Lexington Inn on Jamaica Avenue, which opened about seven years ago, offers rooms for $89. At a nearby Super 8, which was built in 2004, travelers can find rooms for $120 during peak season, and at the new Howard Johnson prices start at $109.99.
But people staying in Jamaica pay much less for getting to the airport, Vipul Patel said.
Carl Winter, 63, from Barbados, came to New York for two weeks with Shirley Marsh, 54. The couple is staying in Super 8, where they had also stayed during their previous trip to New York.
“It’s close to the subway, close to the airport, close to a shopping district and there are many restaurants and fast-food places to eat,” said Winter, who works as a musician and cook on cruise ships. “Everything we need is here. It’s a very convenient location.”