The vision for downtown Jamaica includes turning the area into a thriving airport village with a healthy mix of homegrown and national stores as well as businesses that need to be located near the airport. National chains such as Old Navy, RadioShack, and Home Depot have been in the neighborhood since 2006, and two national banks opened branches in 2008. In the spring of 2009, city and state officials were also trying to convince JetBlue to relocate its headquarters, currently in Forest Hills, to Jamaica.
Plans call for extending the retail district beyond Jamaica Avenue to link it more directly with the AirTrain transit hub two blocks to the south. As of October 2008, the GJDC had raised almost $90 million in federal, state, and municipal funds to make infrastructure improvements in the area including a retail area in a dark underpass beneath the train yard and new transit plazas. In the fall of 2008, the GJDC announced that it was in talks with developers to build 30,000 feet of commercial space at two hotels in the planned “Airport Village”.
In addition to the plans for retail and streetscape improvements, the area has undergone a major rezoning. In September 2007, the City Council approved what was, at the time, the largest rezoning in the City’s history – 368 blocks. Proponents say the former zoning along the JFK AirTrain did not anticipate future development and would not attract new investment opportunities. They claim that the rezoning will allow for major retail and residential development in surrounding Jamaica as well as more transit-oriented development.
City officials have projected that the zoning plan and following economic development will bring a total of 5,176 new housing units, 9,600 new jobs, and 3 million square feet of new commercial space. Critics of the zoning change argued that the rezoning will drastically change the character of the area, increase congestion and create a shortage of parking. Critics also questioned whether the existing infrastructure will be able to handle the strains of the new development.