BY TRONE DOWD
Melinda Katz’s contributions to Southeast Queens is likely to be a crucial centerpiece to her legacy as not only the borough president, but as a general public servant. Her work truly came to a head with the start of the Jamaica Now Neighborhood Action Plan early this year.
The Jamaica Now plan is a multi-agency collaboration meant to revitalize and bring attention to Queens’ most populated – and often times overlooked – neighborhoods. Announced in April, the Jamaica Now plan was one of the first times the city chose to spotlight the neighborhood and realizing its great potential.
“Jamaica is a wonderful neighborhood with a huge untapped potential for growth,” Katz said in a written statement to the Queens Tribune. “The Jamaica NOW Leadership Council consists of stakeholders truly vested in the area’s success. Each appointee is entrusted with overseeing the Plan’s rollout and ensuring that the community’s interests are paramount throughout implementation.”
The plan was very much ahead of the game when it came to capitalizing on Jamaica’s newfound popularity with developers and visitors abroad. In 2015 alone, several projects, including hotels and apartment buildings were all proposed to start construction within a year. Many involved in the project expect it to make downtown Jamaica into a New York City hotspot similar to Williamsburg and Long Island City.
For Katz however, her interest in Jamaica didn’t begin with the potential of development. In fact, she said that she was always in love with Southeast Queens’ standout neighborhood, even when its reputation was less than desirable.
“I think that the culturals and the arts and the programs there are phenomenal,” Katz told the Queens Tribune. “And with the support they’re getting now and the Jamaica Now plan that is putting hundred of thousands of dollars into marketing citywide, it really brings home how great Jamaica is. I mean there are culturals and programs there that you can’t find anywhere else.”
Katz’s investment in Jamaica was evident in her picks to keep the Jamaica Now initiative on track to accomplish its goal: calling on Southeast Queens names like Chairwoman Adrienne Adams of Community Board 12, former government elect and leader of one of Queens’ biggest churches Floyd Flake and Earl Simmons of CUNY York College. She also called on some of the more business focused in the neighborhood like Rhonda Binda of the Jamaica Center BID and Simone Price of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Greater Jamaica Development Corporation President Hope Knight said that she was so happy that Queens has such a strong and experienced elected official of Katz’s stature pulling for such a diverse and culturally rich part of Queens.
“Melinda has been an outstanding leader and advocate for Queens and a tremendous cheerleader for the Jamaica community,” Knight said. “She has been a tireless advocate for the Jamaica Now plan and she and her office are putting tremendous resources into the execution of it. I’ve been delighted to get to know and work with her.”
Katz herself considered the promise of the Jamaica Now plan one of her biggest major successes since taking office in 2012.
“When I became Borough President,” Katz said. “It became clear that Jamaica needed a way to show their wares better. They had a lot to offer. I felt like they weren’t getting that acknowledgement.”
Katz immediately met with the administration in Jamaica and to help get the program off the ground. After nearly 35 meetings and three public hearings, Jamaica Now was able to become a reality. Luckily for her, the community supported the plan almost immediately.
“It’s the perfect example of a policy that came to fruition because of community involvement. And not just like elected officials. Community Boards, civic associations, parents, businesses on Jamaica Avenue.”
According to Katz, the overwhelming community support led to stable backing from the government.
“Original plan we got from the administration was okay,” she joked. “But we negotiated for a lot of extra stuff.”
Some of this extra funding is now going towards affordable housing, free Wi-Fi throughout the neighborhood coming next year, the workforce agenda to get Southeast Queens residents working, and funding for marketing the changes coming to Jamaica were all aspects of Jamaica Now that Katz attributed to the community.
“It’s a game changer for Jamaica,” Katz said about neighborhood plan. “It’s a real game changer.”