JAMAICA — Jamaica, which for decades has struggled with neglect and high rates of crime, is following a similar path to Harlem's revitalization, according to a local official who has worked in both neighborhoods.
“There is lots of hype and I think it’s warranted because there is a lot of changes that are happening in this community, a lot of projects that are coming to the neighborhood,” said Hope Knight, the president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a local nonprofit group, which has worked to attract new investments to the neighborhood.
Prior to her current job, Knight, 51, served as the chief operating officer for the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, a nonprofit working on revitalizing Upper Manhattan, including Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. She is also Mayor Bill de Blasio’s newest appointee to the City Planning Commission.
According to Knight, Jamaica follows a “very similar cycle” to Harlem's, although she said it will probably take Jamaica about a decade to get where Harlem is now.
“This community is at the early stage of the revitalization cycle,” Knight said, adding that in the next 3 to 5 years residents are going to see “tremendous change,” including many new buildings.
Jamaica has already started undergoing a transformation, attracting new developments, including at least 10 new hotels planned for the neighborhood and several apartment buildings, like The Crossing, which are slated to bring hundreds of new apartment units to the area.
The neighborhood, which is only minutes away from JFK Airport and provides express trains to Manhattan, also topped StreetEasy's list of hottest areas in the city late last year.
The area, which in the '80s and '90 was the epicenter of the crack epidemic and gun violence, also saw a dramatic decrease in crime over the past 25 years.
In 1990 alone, there were 38 murders in the 103rd Precinct, which covers downtown Jamaica and Hollis, compared to 6 last year, a decline of more than 84 percent.
The number of rapes in the precinct fell by more than 53 percent, from 60 in 1990 to 28 in 2015, NYPD statistics show. There were 1,846 robberies 25 years ago, compared to 384 last year, a decrease of nearly 80 percent.
In an effort to re-energize the neighborhood, Greater Jamaica is working on creating a “hospitality hub” around the Jamaica AirTrain station area, Knight said.
“It’s a compelling proposition for visitors who … want greater value so they can visit Manhattan and stay here in Jamaica," she said. Jamaica's access to the AirTrain station, she said, also makes it easy for travelers who "have early flights or late flights and they don’t want to go in the city.”
Knight said that the goal is now to build amenities around the station area, such as “diverse dining establishments and some entertainment, like lounges and places for people to socialize, and some compelling retail."
In order to bring new retailers, she said, downtown Jamaica needs “much more density ... and the services will follow.”
She said that while Harlem had struggled with numerous abandoned properties, in Jamaica the issue is that “most of the population today leaves the neighborhood at 5 o’clock,” she said referring to numerous people who work or travel through the area but do not live in Jamaica.
“Proprietors need a broad population that lives here to be able to earn the living at dinner time so what has to happen is some of this density with respect to the residential has to take root so that you have customers,” she said.
Knight said that one of the challenges now is to find ways to encourage growth while keeping the neighborhood affordable, a concern shared by many residents.
"It’s very hard," Knight admitted. "Private landlords have the ability to set what they believe their market is so it’s very difficult."