Jamaica, Queens: A look at new growth, old problems in iconic New York neighborhood | Street Soldiers

Jamaica, Queens, is seeing big-time support for major new development projects, but a big question remains: Will old problems stand in the way?

FOX 5 NY's Lisa Evers hit the streets to take an in-depth look at this iconic New York City neighborhood for this week's episode of Street Soldiers.

Local officials allocated more than $60 million to makeover Jamaica Avenue with a modern look. Over $1 billion in private money is being invested into new residential buildings and commercial spaces.

According to city records, over half a million people pass through Jamaica's Transit Hub each day, where they have access to four subway lines, 48 bus routes, the Long Island Rail Road and AirTran JFK. 

A place to ‘live, work, shop and play’

At the world-class hub, you're minutes away from JFK Airport in one direction and Manhattan in the other.

More than half a million people pass each day through Jamaica's Transit Hub.

But commuters shouldn't treat Jamaica like a "flyover" neighborhood, according to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. He's on a mission to get riders and their spending power into the community where he was raised.

Richards wants everyone to feel welcome and to come live, work, shop and play in Jamaica.

"We wanted to make sure that -- especially since I'm from here, coming in as the borough president -- that we started to really focus in on historic investment, really correcting a lot of the disparities that have existed in this community for a long time," Richards said.

Independent local businesses give Jamaica a friendly, neighborhood vibe. Just steps away from the Transit Hub is Rincon Salvadoreno, the first El Salvadoran restaurant in New York City.

Rincon Salvadoreno.

Owner Elena Barcenes had hoped for an influx of new customers when two hotels opened nearby. Instead, more than 2,000 rooms are now housing migrants. No matter what, she's determined to keep her business running.

"I like the diversity," Barcenes said. "I like how it's changed. I've been here for the last 27 years. I took over the restaurant after my husband passed away. It's gone up and down, and we've seen many changes. It's a strong community, and I've always believed in it."

Along Jamaica Avenue, you'll see long-established businesses, along with major new chains that are bringing in shoppers.

The scene along Jamaica Avenue.

Residents and shoppers may soon enjoy Jamaica Avenue even more – a nearly $70 million city capital investment project will widen sidewalks, repave roads and add seating to increase useable outdoor space.

"I'm so excited because of the bandwidth because so many communities are at capacity, but this community has the ability to grow and expand, to build housing, to be an economic driver, to address quality of life issues, but still keep the fabric of our beloved southeast Queens community," said City Council member Nantasha Williams.

The Reggae Hot Spot has been in Jamaica for more than 20 years. Owner Jason Ellis sees a different type of change in the area. Stores that had been open for years are closing due to rising rents and lower profits from changing customer habits.

The Reggae Hot Spot.

"It's not me alone that's going through the slowness but other business owners, from the hairdressers to the nail salons, so are some of the other clothing stores around here," Ellis said.

Still, city planners say more than $1 billion in private investment is going into new hotels and residential and commercial spaces.

The Greater Jamaica Development Corporation

Jamaica is at a crossroads, moving toward the future while trying not to leave long-term residents and businesses behind. Some local business owners said the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation (GJDC) is instrumental in supporting them through tough times. 

GJDC President Justin Rodgers showed FOX 5 NY their state-of-the-art Greater Nexus Co. working space. It's designed to be affordable for individuals, non-profit organizations and startups. 

Richards said the space is designed to create growth from the grassroots up by bringing tech to the community.

"A lot of people have more access than we've ever had, but how do we now take that talent and turn it into apps and turn it into upward mobility for the community," Richards said.

Jamaica, Queens, crime

During her visit, Evers took a walk along Jamaica Avenue with NYPD Captain Nicholas Minor and his team.

The NYPD said many major crime categories in the 103 Precinct declined in 2023 compared to 2022:

  • Murders dropped by 83.3%.
  • Burglaries were down 21.8%.
  • Shootings down by 57.1%.

Minor told Evers they're focused on highly visible foot patrols along with additional officers and specialty units.

"How important is it for you to have a visible presence here?" Evers asked Capt. Nicholas Minor.

"Very important," he responded. "I think it helps the community. They can breathe a sigh of relief when they see a police officer, and people coming in and out, just working, seeing a cop on that corner gives them a sense of security."

Evers asked a local resident if she'd seen more police officers in the community.

"Yes, we've got two on every corner just about every corner, some in the stores, and they're out here," she said.

Tune into the special episode of Street Soldiers On Location in Jamaica, Queens this Friday night, right after the 10 O'Clock News.