Underutilized SSA Building Raises Questions

BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Staff Writer

Sept. 19, 1982, was an historic day for Jamaica. Elected officials, civic leaders and business owners gathered to celebrate under a colorful tent on a vacant lot that was soon to be the site of a $92 million building – the new home to the Social Security Administration offices.

The milestone development was considered to be one of the most ambitious projects for the area at the time. Spearheaded by the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo Sr. and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, it aimed to revive one of the most troubled areas in the City.

According to reports from 1982, prior its unveiling in 1989, the custom-designed regional headquarters, located at the busy corner of Jamaica Avenue and Parsons Boulevard, was expected to boost the economic climate significantly, with about 2,700 SSA employees spending a hefty chunk of their annual payroll of $55 million in Jamaica’s businesses.

Six of the SSA regional headquarters’ 11 floors are being used for the storage of filing cabinets.

Six of the SSA regional headquarters’ 11 floors are being used for the storage of filing cabinets.

But now, just 25 years after the 11-story federal building opened, the Queens Tribune has learned that six of its floors are being used for the storage of filing cabinets, leaving more than half of its one million-square-feet of office space underutilized and hundreds of employees unaccounted for.

Approximately two to three years ago, when the building’s utilization was first called into question, Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), whose district encompasses the headquarters, Carlisle Towery, president of the GJDC, and a representative from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, toured the headquarters, only to confirm their suspicions.

“This was designed to bring close to 3,000 people and it seems like it was only half-filled,” Meeks said.
“It’s an anchor in Jamaica that we welcomed and worked very hard to get and to have it only used at half its capacity is troubling,” Towery echoed.

Although it is unclear as to why six of the building’s floors are not being used by staff and whether the hundreds of employees were relocated, Meeks said he believes the building’s underutilization is halting economic progression.

“It hurts the community in general, because it reduces traffic flow,” the Congressman said. “[Having employees there] helps stimulate growth in the community. It brings individuals into the Downtown Jamaica business atmosphere and allows local merchants to see more sales, which would allow them to employ more individuals.”

In response to his findings, Meeks said that he requested the agency conduct a study to determine if the space was in fact being used to its maximum potential.

“I know they did a study, but I haven’t gotten it. But I have been putting pressure on them, as I ought to know what their findings were. I think they have come to the conclusion the building is underutilized.,” he said.

According to Angie Hu, a spokesperson for the Senator, Gillibrand has also been in touch with Public Building Services and the entities involved so that they can investigate the matter.

“Our office made an inquiry with the federal agencies involved and will continue to look into the issue,” Hu wrote in an emailed statement.

Instead of using more than half of the regional headquarters’ floors as storage for filing cabinets, Meeks said he has been putting pressure on SSA representatives to use the building more effectively, so that Jamaica can continue to economically prosper.

“They need to find additional federal agencies that are looking for places to reside and move some of them in the Social Security Building,” he said. “That would make sense and maximize the flow of individuals in the building and in the streets.”

He also offered an alternate solution.

“If they don’t feel that there are agencies that are trying to relocate, then maybe they should sell the building, or sell the building to someone in the private industry,” he said. “This way they can lease what space they need for themselves from the new potential owners.”

The SSA’s New York Regional Communications Director, John Shallman, confirmed that when the building first opened, it housed 2,700 employees. He declined to discuss the current numbers “due to security reasons.”

Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or nkozikowska@queenspress.com.