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Jamaica’s rich pickings drawing builders on hunt for cheap land

In a city where location and access to transit is king, one neighborhood in Queens is looking to capitalize on its excess of trains, and its proximity to JFK Airport.

Jamaica is served by the E,J, Z, and F trains, as well as the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and the AirTrain, and is just five miles from JFK Airport.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration recently unveiled the Jamaica Now Action Plan, a 21-point plan to help revitalize the area.

Many of the items on the plan are slated to be completed within three years, while some had already been announced, like the EDC’s plan to redevelop the 168th Street NYPD garage into a mixed-income complex that will include housing units, retail and a community center.

Also in the plan is the development of one to four-family houses, condos, co-ops, and smaller affordable rental buildings at 11 sites in the South Jamaica area.

Streetscape improvements along Jamaica Avenue, an entrepreneurship program to help train locals at starting new businesses, more NYPD cameras in high-traffic areas, an arts alliance and public art projects are all part of the plan as well.

The city will also be giving new incentives to owners of aging and vacant properties near the Air Train/LIRR station, in an attempt to add additional housing and retail.

A handful of business improvement districts with the neighborhood of Jamaica, put the area front-and-center at a breakfast last week, in an effort to draw interest to the far east neighborhood that is hoping to see big changes in coming years.

Developers, retailers, and members of the community discussed the issues holding the area back — including a dearth of restaurant options in the area.

Drew Greenwald, principal of Grid Properties, believes one of downtown Jamaica’s main thoroughfares — Sutphin Boulevard — could be the next 125th Street in Harlem.

Greenwald’s firm developed Harlem USA on 125th Street in Harlem, a 285,000 s/f, six-level retail and entertainment complex anchored by a movie theater.

“We would love to find a large enough site to do a project here like in Harlem,” said Greenwald at the breakfast. “We want to keep making statements.”

The area’s old zoning regulations had been in place since the early 1960’s, until 2007, when the City Council adopted a proposal by the Department of City Planning to establish a special district and rezone a large portion of downtown Jamaica.

That 368-block rezoned area in downtown Jamaica translates to 5,200 new units of housing, 1.8 million s/f of commercial office space, 2.1 million s/f of retail space, and 1,000 to 2,000 hotel rooms, according to the Sutphin Boulevard BID.

Development lagged in the immediate years following the rezoning, but is finally starting to pick up, with a slew of new projects in the works.

The BRP Companies, a minority developer, is currently developing The Crossings at Jamaica Station, a $225 mixed-use complex of two buildings with 600 apartment units total, and 125,000 s/f of retail, which will be spread across the first three floors in one building and the first floor in the other building. Amenities at the building will include a fitness center, lounges, terraces, and a rooftop garden.

“We had a lot of success in areas like Bed-Stuy that were upzoned, and we’ve seen an influx of folks in that area,” said Steven Smith, managing director of BRP Properties. “We would love to replicate that here in Jamaica.”

On Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue, directly across from the AirTrain/LIRR station — which links directly to JFK Airport — Able Management, a minority developer specializing in hospitality, is building a 26-story, 260-room Hilton Garden Inn.

Brian Sarath, a director of sales in the capital markets division of Cushman & Wakefield, closed a deal at 163-05/25 Archer Avenue for $22 million.

The site consists of two contiguous lots with a combined 719,736 buildable square feet, and was the largest deal in downtown Jamaica in the last 15 years. Sarath cited the “much lower” land prices in Jamaica as compared to the rest of New York City as a big reason investors are going to Jamaica.

“The transportation is unparalleled in many neighborhoods,” said Sarath. “The future looks extremely bright.”

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