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Crain's Insider: A Royal Vision for Queens
Date:  12/20/2011
ArticleType:  Chamber News

A Royal Vision for Queens

A continuous line of hotels from Rockaway Boulevard all the way to JFK airport. An airport village in Jamaica. Tourist-packed shuttle buses and No. 7 trains carrying tennis fans from the U.S. Open to eateries in Flushing, Jackson Heights and beyond. Spinning turnstiles at the New York Hall of Science, Queens Theatre, Queens Museum or Art and smaller institutions in the borough. Summer crowds frolicking at a revived Rockaways. A bustling cargo business at JFK.

This sunny vision of Queens' potential future is harbored by the fourth-year executive director of its chamber of commerce, Jack Friedman. He harbors no illusions about the chances of it being realized, but is making progress. He's in talks with the United States Tennis Association on ways to get U.S. Open fans to local restaurants from the National Tennis Center. Multiple-day U.S. Open visitors are the target, as they presumably tire of eating overpriced nachos at the tournament.

“You can find any restaurant from any ethnicity in Queens,” Friedman said. “They need assistance in marketing themselves better.” The Queens Economic Development Corp. does run a “Taste of Queens” event every year, but it caters to locals.

Friedman called downtown Jamaica “another area ripe for development,” as it sits just minutes from a major international airport, linked by the AirTrain—and has a Long Island Rail Road station to boot. Plans for an “airport village” exist but lenders won't finance it and City Hall is focused elsewhere. “The political reality is we have an administration that's phasing out,” he said, referring to Mayor Mike Bloomberg's reluctance to start projects that could be dropped by his successor.

The mayor is pushing to redevelop Willets Point, but the outcome—including whether an international convention center will be built, as the chamber has requested for a decade—remains uncertain. A developer for the first phase will be chosen in February.

Friedman says hotels are popping up all over the borough, but a southern Queens hospitality boom depends on the state allowing casino table games at the Aqueduct racino. A constitutional amendment to allow that will be introduced next month. Two 200-seat restaurants will open at Aqueduct next week. “This could be the start of something big,” said Friedman. “Really big.”

Reprinted with permission from Crain's New York Business. © 2011 Crain Communications Inc. All rights reserved.

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