BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
When weighing in its close proximity to the train, the Jamaica Performing Arts Center and the business strip along Jamaica Avenue, Downtown Jamaica is the ideal place to live. And since the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation was founded in 1967, it has been striving to show developers what it sees – the massive potential of the area.
“People need to live in good solid neighborhoods, where they shop and where they don’t have to own a car,” said Carlisle Towery, president at GJDC. “Downtowns have multiple destinations and choices, so when you come Downtown, you can do multiple things on any given trip. Downtowns are efficient and Downtown Jamaica is rich with opportunities.”
Less than two decades ago, housing options in Downtown Jamaica were lacking. But now, within walking distance of the Station area, hundreds of units have been recently completed and more than 500 units are well into development.
Though GJDC is not a developer, it has long been their goal to help facilitate developments like housing, either by assembling properties, finding space for projects or simply highlighting what Jamaica has to offer to potential investors.
“A lot of the time, Greater Jamaica has to assemble the properties, and in some cases we sell the properties to developers,” Towery explained. “Often, we sell properties well below market values. We didn’t make money off of these land sales, and in some cases, we don’t even recover our cost.”
Last year, in conjunction with the Bluestone Organization, GJDC announced the start of construction on the 161st Street mixed-income housing apartments, Norman Towers. The buildings, which will also include retail space, are expected to generate more than $30 million in local economic activity and construct 100 affordable homes for families and individuals.
“The new mixed-use, mixed-income development is an investment in the future and another fine example of how private and public sectors can work together,” said former Borough President Helen Marshall at the groundbreaking ceremony last year. “They are going to bring forth an attractive, affordable housing and commercial space. This is not only exciting for the spirits who will occupy these apartments but also renews the entire community.”
The property, located at 90-14 161st St. in Downtown Jamaica, was purchased from the GJDC in 2008 primarily to serve as the new headquarters for the Bluestone Organization and additional office space. Over the course of five years, however, the plans transformed.
The apartments will consist of 100 units in two nine-story elevator serviced towers built over a connecting cellar. There will be a total of seven studios, 72 one-bedroom apartments and 21 two-bedroom apartments. Other amenities will include a bicycle room and parking. Norman Towers will include 5,311-square-feet of commercial space and 4,525-square-feet of retail and is scheduled for completion later this year.
Right across from the street from the Norman Towers is yet another housing development that GJDC helped lay the groundwork for – the already completed Yorkside Towers. Completed in 2005 by the Ciampa Organization, Yorkside Towers were the first market-rate rental housing structures built in Downtown Jamaica in 30 years.
The two fully-occupied buildings, which contain 180 units total, demonstrated the high demand and desirability of living in Downtown Jamaica. The project added vibrancy to the neighborhood and spurred a wave of new housing developments across the area.
GJDC assembled the land in the mid-1970s and took responsibility for rezoning the land for higher density housing. The project was financed through the New York City Housing Development Corporation’s New Housing Opportunities Program.
Perhaps the most structurally-impressive housing development that GJDC helped spearhead are the Moda apartments, which debuted in 2010 and are located on Parsons Boulevard between 89th Avenue and 90th Avenue.
The 346-unit development, which features low and middle rate housing, is a certified green building and also includes a 24-hour concierge, gym, lounge, children’s playroom and indoor parking. The project also has 20,000-square-feet of community space and 50,000-square-feet of retail, which includes an Associated Supermarket and the City Rib restaurant.
According to Towery, GJDC was instrumental in ensuring that the City’s “excess” property went to good use.
“We helped on Moda when the City decided to build family courts and had this property left over,” he said. “We worked hard to make sure that the City access went to EDC [Economic Development Corporation], who then went out and found developers to redo it, as opposed to just auctioning it to the highest bidder.”