QUEENS — Jamaica, once the shopping hub for much of Queens and Long Island, could be getting its first major department store in more than three decades, according to the local development corporation.
Officials from The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and the Blumenfeld Development Group announced Monday that they have signed a deal to convert two parking lots into a massive 160,000 square foot retail store and a 550-space parking garage.
“Jamaica is under-retailed. It has much less retail activity than it can support," said Carlisle Towery, President of the GJDC. “If you put these anchoring tenants in the right place, everyone benefits."
The proposed retail development comes as downtown Jamaica is undergoing a transformation with new residential buildings, hotels and civil centers.
The idea for the complex came out of a series of meetings two years ago between the GJDC and local community groups, said Towery. At those meetings, the Corporation determined that invigorating local retail and bringing a department store to Jamaica was a top neighborhood priority, he said.
“The chances that a department store would displace any shops is very small — it’s more likely to support other shops by attracting foot traffic,” he said.
The $50 million new retail complex is expected to generate about 400 jobs, in addition to about 150 construction jobs, he said.
Developers don't expect to break ground on the project, at 168th Street, between 90th and Jamaica avenues, for at least two years, pending a series of city approvals, said Towery. It's also not yet clear which store will be moving into the planned space.
Jamaica used to be home to three department stores — Macy’s, Mays and Gertz. All of those stores closed during a ten-year period of “sheer economic failure” for the neighborhood, beginning with the closing of Macy’s in 1978, said Towery.
"I hope something like Mays comes back," said Sarah Williams, 70, who has lived in the neighborhood for about 45 years and used to shop regularly at Mays.
"I used to buy everything there. I miss it," she said.