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Jamaica Could be New York's Next Tourism Hotspot, New BID Director Says

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | January 13, 2015 3:23pm
 Rhonda Binda took over the Jamaica Center BID in December.
Rhonda Binda took over the Jamaica Center BID in December.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Jamaica could be New York's next tourist hotspot — at least that's the dream of the new head of the neighborhood's Business Improvement District.

Rhonda Binda is planning to organize tours around the neighborhood and launch a series of pop-up installations that would highlight local history and cultural achievements.

Binda, 37, a former White House employee who got her law degree at Georgetown University, became the BID's executive director last month.

A Jamaica native who currently lives in the area, she said she is teaming up with the Queens Tourism Council to organize themed tours around the neighborhood for both locals and travelers who have long layovers at JFK.

“We can have people come for a walking tour or a shopping tour,” she said.

During the tours, participants would be able to learn about places important in jazz and hip-hop history, visit old churches or eat at restaurants serving a variety of ethnic cuisines, she said.

“We are really a gateway for the international community that’s coming to New York,” said Binda.

She is also planning to launch a series of pop-up installations that would highlight local history and artists.

Recently, the neighborhood has become home to a number of hotels and a new Hilton Garden Inn is planned for downtown Jamaica in the near future.

Binda said Jamaica, which has historically struggled with neglect and crime, has undergone numerous changes throughout the years.

But it still faces many challenges, she said.

Binda's parents, immigrants from Guyana, moved to Queens Village and later to Jamaica in the 1970s, when she was a little girl.

Her mother worked as a medical office assistant while her father was a minister. He also had a small store selling vacuum cleaners on Jamaica Avenue and 215th Street, she said.

Back then, she said, many people from the neighborhood would go to Forest Hills to shop and dine. Today, she said, it's often still the case.

Her goal is to attract more sit-down restaurants and quality stores to the neighborhood, which is dominated by fast food.

Citing data provided by the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, she said that Jamaica residents spend more than $400 million on dining and about $200 million on clothing and shoes outside the neighborhood each year — money she said she would like to see spent locally.

Binda said the BID is also hoping to encourage more nightlife in downtown Jamaica by organizing comedy shows, concerts, film screenings and open mics for local artists.

Binda, who went to local public schools before going to Washington, DC, where she worked for the Office of Public Engagement for the Clinton White House, said she feels "very honored" to work for her home neighborhood.

“I think now is really the time for Jamaica and for all of Queens for that matter,” she said, noting that Jamaica is projected to become one of the five “hottest” neighborhoods in the city among renters and buyers this year by real estate website StreetEasy.

"Lonely Planet" also picked Queens as the top place to visit in the entire country in its 2015 guide.

The current administration, she said, has also been paying more attention "to the other boroughs [than Manhattan]."

Binda replaced Felicia Tunnah, who left the BID in July last year.