Feature

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Parking Problems Driving Shoppers
Right Out Of Jamaica

By MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE

Finding a place to park in downtown Jamaica is increasingly becoming an exercise in frustration and – according to local residents, merchants and officials – the situation is driving business right out of town.

Putting Businesses In Park

According to Carlyle Towery, director of Greater Jamaica Development Corp., (GJDC) "There is not adequate, affordable off-street parking." We are losing revenue to Nassau County because we don’t have adequate parking in Jamaica.

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"If we are going to compete,
we must have parking, he said. The first question about vacant office space down here is ‘where are we going to park,’" said Towery. "It is a big disincentive, to investors."

Veronica James, a frequent shopper on Jamaica Avenue said it’s a "real turnoff going down there."

"I don’t have much of a choice but to shop on Jamaica Avenue because the prices suit my budget and they have stores that are unique to my needs," she said.

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The lack of public parking spaces (top) coupled with limited garage space (above) has made parking in Jamaica a headache for motorists and businesses.
PRESS Photos by Ira Cohen

"They have the uniforms for all my kids’ schools, they have fabric stores for my sewing and their prices fit my budget so I can’t go anywhere else," she added.

Although James said she may not have a choice, Celeste Whitehead said he does. She’s mad and she’s not taking it anymore.

"I got several tickets down there," Whitehead said angrily. You shouldn’t be penalized just for trying to buy a shirt. It’s ridiculous that you have to pay for parking – when you can find it – and it’s ridiculous that they have these meter maids ticketing your car if you’re a minute late."

So Whitehead does what an increasing number of people are doing. She’s taking her money out of the neighborhood.

"I drive out to Valley Stream and park hassle-free," she said. "When you go to Green Acres there are no meters and no one ticketing or towing your car. You stay as long as you want and it’s a stress-free experience for me. I shouldn’t have to be stressed just to buy an outfit there are too many other things to worry about," she said.

Less Mileage On Local Cash Registers

For Chuck Wallace, the manager of Toys ‘R’ Us, located on Jamaica Avenue and 168 Street, the parking problem is as simple as dollars and cents.

"It’s cut down tremendously on the per capita purchase at our store," said Wallace. "A person will come in but since there’s no parking many take public transportation so they can’t buy big items to take them onto the train or bus. Our free-standing stores (such as the one in Valley Stream) do more than twice the business we do on Jamaica Avenue," he said.

According to Wallace, who is a co-chairperson of the Jamaica Parking Coalition, plans for the privitization of the lots behind his store by GJDC will be helpful because the removal of the meters will give driving customers more time in the stores.

"We have customers now who come in and don’t have enough time to spend in the store," he said. "They’re rushing to get back to their cars before they get ticketed. But if things don’t improve we’ll have to gear the store toward what the customers actually buy – the small items such as diapers, we’ll have to do other things to be profitable."

Wallace also told the PRESS that the Parking Coalition is now trying to create a mandate that each time a new project comes to Jamaica it will have to come with its own built-in parking facility. He also revealed that the lack of parking in the courthouses is an effort to prevent acts of terrorism, hence the parking for the judges alone.

Who’s Parking?

There is an influx of vehicular traffic in the heart of Jamaica over the past decade and a half, according to community officials.

The close proximity of affordable shopping along Jamaica Avenue (including the 165th Street mall), government buildings including the Social Security Administration building and three court houses, the NYPD Crime Lab, the Department of Motor Vehicles, an unemployment office and the main public library for the borough makes Jamaica a destination of convenience but also a parking nightmare according to those who live and work in the area.

Janet Barkan, executive director of the Jamaica Business District (Jamaica BID) views the situation as bad for business.

"Because we have great development going on we’ve lost a lot of parking," said Barkan. "But Jamaica is going to lose. If shoppers can’t find parking they will go to Green Acres and the Miracle Mile and Woodberry Common and we will lose the eight and a quarter percent tax.

People are smart, they’ll go where the parking is and Jamaica will lose, the borough and for that matter, the city will lose, all the hard work of the past 20–25 years will be almost be for naught; and that’ll be very sad for this community and all the people who worked so hard to bring economic development and jobs into this community," she said.

Getting Developers In Gear

Towery explained that from time to time as development demands, parking spaces are used for construction of new buildings.

Unfortunately, when a site is developed it rarely comes equipped for its own parking needs and its employees are left to compete with transient parkers for the few available street-side parking slots.

The new family court on Jamaica Avenue, according to Towery and Barkan, displaced 300 parking spaces and now has only 20 spaces for judges.

The Civil Court on Sutphin Boulevard is also built on what was an interim parking lot.

The NYPD Crime Lab has it’s own lot but, without a certificate of occupancy the $2 million lot sits empty while its employees compete for street parking, according to sources.

"Their employees are parking all over the streets," said Towery. "And the Finance Administration has only one fifth of the parking space it requires. You can’t have government workers taking up all the curbside parking. The permitting is out of control. We’re pleased to have these agencies but in Queens people have to drive and must have parking," he said.

And Towery is not alone in his dissatisfaction. According to one source, some of the officers from the Crime Lab "just flip their visors and go to work. They are doing it with impunity."

Social Security, according to Towery, "came on line" with two levels of parking but they were later taken out of the plan and the building meant for 3,000 and which has 16 to 17 hundred jobs, has only 45 parking spaces. To add to the dilemma, the new movie theatre/shopping mall currently under constriction at Parsons and Jamaica is on what used to be a busy parking lot. To their credit, according to Towery, the developers are putting in more parking spaces than what they took. When they bought the lot, the Mattone group displaced 300 parking spaces but upon completion the center will have 400 spaces for its employees and customers.

However, it’s not just official lots that are being displaced. Towery allows that there were areas such as Sutphin Boulevard, where shoppers and employees used to park without charge but as development continues, those spaces get lost to commercialization.

Unveiling A Master Plan

While the problem is vexing, the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. is not ready to throw in the towel. The non-profit organization recently took control of three of the area’s busiest parking facilities and will soon embark on a major rehabilitation project on these facilities.

"We have a parking master plan," said Towery.

"Government doesn’t want to hear about parking, they want to promote mass transit but we must provide for our own parking requirements. We just bought the (parking) garage on 165th Street and Archer Avenue and the two lots at 168th Street behind the 103rd Precinct and behind the library," he said.

According to Towery, GJDC has taken over the garage and the municipal lots (muni-lots) because the city was not investing in them nor were they managing them up to standard.

"We want to set up a tax exempt bond," said Towery.

"We see this as an opportunity to provide affordable, off-street parking at a lower rate to support the existing economy of the area.

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