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Hotel Building Boom Sweeps Jamaica Amid Concerns

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | November 9, 2015 1:44pm
 Jamaica has become a major transportation hub since JFK's AirTrain station opened on Sutphin Boulevard in 2003.
Jamaica has become a major transportation hub since JFK's AirTrain station opened on Sutphin Boulevard in 2003.
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DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — The hotel industry is booming in New York, and downtown Jamaica seems to be one of the fastest-growing hotel hubs in the city.

But while many see it as a boon for the long-overlooked neighborhood, others worry that the new hotels will sit empty and become future homeless shelter sites.

In recent years, downtown Jamaica has attracted numerous hotel developers.

There are at least 10 hotels currently planned for the neighborhood, which would bring roughly 1,600 new rooms added to about 400 rooms now available in the area.

The neighborhood's proximity to the airport makes for an ideal location, experts say, but critics wonder whether the sewer infrastructure — already prone to flooding — can handle a large number of new developments. 

Traffic congestion around the AirTrain area also raises concerns, according to Yvonne Reddick, district manager for Community Board 12.

"We are not against progress," Reddick said. "But with all of this will we be getting additional services, will we be getting traffic agents, will we be getting additional enforcement to make sure that the traffic moves forward?"

Some locals shared her concerns. 

"Aside from JFK pilots, flight attendants, and people on layovers, who is expected to stay in all these hotels?," Neighborhood Square user areacode212 said.

"If hotels in LIC/Dutch Kills can't make it, what chance do these have? ... Can't wait for the "Downtown Jamaica Hotel Becoming Homeless Shelter" headline in 2020 or so."

Jamaica, which historically has struggled with crime and neglect, has become a major transportation hub since the AirTrain station opened on Sutphin Boulevard in 2003. 

In 2014, AirTrain JFK served approximately 6.5 million riders, according to governor Andrew Cuomo.

The area, which also offers easy access to several major highways, express subway trains to Manhattan and the Long Island Rail Road, drew in new developers after the 2007 rezoning.

Some hotel developers teamed up with large and well-known hotel chains, including Marriott, Wyndham Garden and Hilton Garden Inn, with most new lodgings planned along Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue.

Several other smaller hotels are also planned for the area, including a 4-story Sleep Inn on Queens Boulevard

"It’s right near the AirTrain station and it’s right near JFK, but it’s so much cheaper than Manhattan," said Rob MacKay, director of public relations, marketing and tourism at the Queens Economic Development Corporation.

"There might be a lot of business travelers that might be coming just for one meeting and ... you can get a lot of stewardesses and pilots who want to be close to where they have to go to work the next morning."

Some local organizations said it’s time developers finally discover Jamaica’s true potential.

“Our planning studies identified the need for the availability of quality hotel rooms in and around Downtown Jamaica, and we are confident they will be bringing tourists and other visitors to the city to stay and shop and take advantage of what the area has to offer,” said Hope Knight, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation.

The nonprofit has worked for more than four decades to bring new investment to the neighborhood.

“The Sutphin Boulevard corridor has particular competitive strength for new hotel operations because AirTrain giving eight minute access to JFK Airport," she said.

Knight noted that she hopes the new projects will create job opportunities and make the neighborhood safer and more economically efficient.

The Jamaica Center Business Improvement District said it has already began gearing up for more tourists coming to the area. 

The BID is working on creating a coalition of concierges who would distribute brochures and information among their guests about cultural events, stores, and restaurants in the neighborhood.

"We are creating paraphernalia to leave in the hotel and on their beds when they arrive so they feel welcome," said Rhonda Binda, head of the BID, who called Jamaica a "gateway to New York."  

The BID is also hoping to open a visitor center in downtown Jamaica.

Still, the worry over too many lodgings is a cause for concern to some, as hotels in neighborhoods throughout the city changeover into homeless shelters.

Earlier this year, the city took over a number of rooms at the former Quality Inn hotel to house homeless people at the 94th Avenue and 143rd Street building in downtown Jamaica.

The hotel has since changed its name to “Retreat Inn.”

Last month, the city announced that Verve Hotel in Long Island City — where the number of hotels went from eight in 2008 to 26 today — will be turned into a homeless shelter for women.

Earlier this week, authorities said that a Sleep Inn hotel in Sunset Park will become a shelter for men.

MacKay said he too worries "about oversaturation constantly, especially because we have so many hotels," adding that the borough went from about 20 hotels in the 1980s to its current estimate of 100.

"But I kind of trust that these people know what they are doing," he said about Jamaica hotel developers. 

As long as tourists are coming to New York in great numbers, MacKay said, the demand for hotels will continue. 

Local councilman Daneek Miller dismissed concerns over the hotel-to-homeless-shelter changeover. He said he has met with a number of developers planning to build hotels in Jamaica and has trust in their knowledge and experience.

"Their reputation as hotel developers speaks for itself," Miller said. "They are not new to the industry and we have to make sure that they have an opportunity to succeed." 

"My job now is to make sure that they can provide jobs and services to the community."

One developer, Kaushik Patel, said last month that he and his workers know the area.

Patel recently announced plans to build new massive 166,000-square-feet complex consisting of three adjacent hotels operated by Wyndham Garden, Country Inns & Suites and La Quinta Inns & Suites, near the intersection of Sutphin Boulevard and 101st Avenue. 

"[The complex] will feed the JFK market as well as local community," Patel added.

Jan Freitag of STR, a company which analyzes supply and demand data for the hotel industry, said that currently there are around 13,000 hotel rooms under construction in New York City. 

"That’s the highest in the nation for any market by a long shot," he said.

Last year, an all-time record 56.4 million visitors came to New York City.

According to data provided by NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism group for New York City, average occupancy rates in 2014 citywide was 89.2 percent, although borough-specific information was not available.   

With so many projects under way, developers are looking for areas in the city which offer good accessibility, affordable land cost and easy development process, Frietag said.

"And voila, Jamaica raises to the top."