Today’s news:

Multiplex brings cinemas back to southeast Queens

After 30 years without a cinema in southeast Queens, the Jamaica Multiplex, a 15-screen theater with 31,000 seats, opens to the public today, making it the first tenant in the new Jamaica Center to open its doors.

The Multiplex, located at 159-02 Jamaica Ave. on the corner of Parsons Boulevard, held a gala opening Tuesday night, inviting Borough President Helen Marshall, theater managers National Amusements President Shari Redstone, developer Joseph Mattone Sr., and more than 1,000 others to grab some popcorn and candy as they dimmed the lights and rolled their fist films.

The theater officially opens today, with four screens showing “Star Wars Episode II,” four screens showing “Spider-Man,” and others featuring “Unfaithful,” “Scorpion King,” and more. Tickets went on sale through the Internet and phone earlier this week, said Jennifer Hanson, spokeswoman for National Amusements.

The 15 theaters are decked out in blues, purples and blacks, complete with stadium seating with retractable arms and leather headrests. The largest theater seats about 500, while the others vary, getting as small as 135 seats, said Will Hare, manager of the College Point Multiplex Theater, which is also run by National Amusements.

The theater employs about 170 people, most of whom live in the Jamaica area, Hare said.

Many, including the developers, Whitestone-based Mattone Group, see the theater and the Jamaica Center as a tool to revitalize the neighborhood.

“We hope it’ll stretch the day a little bit,” Mattone said. “There seems to be a hiatus at 5 or 6 o’clock.”

Other Jamaica-based groups and retailers hope to take advantage of that.

“We’ve always wanted to do programs in the evenings,” said Tyra Emerson, executive director of the Cultural Collaborative Jamaica. “Now we’ll have an extended nightlife in Jamaica.”

The 411,000-square-foot Jamaica Center will also include a 400-spot parking garage, which former City Councilman Archie Spigner believes will be a boon to the community.

“People have a convenient and safe place to park while they get the subway or the train or the bus or whatever,” he said. “This moves us into the next level. It’s a catalyst.”

National retailers like The Gap, Old Navy, Walgreens, and Bally Total Fitness have also leased space in the center. The stores are scheduled to open throughout May.

The project is expected to bring 350 jobs to downtown Jamaica, and the center’s tenants have been trying to hire local residents. Both Old Navy and Jamaica Multiplex held job fairs at the location. Although neither would say how many people they were looking to hire, the public response was overwhelming.

The center will be the home of the second National Amusement cinema in Queens, Hanson said. The other in is College Point, she said. The company broke ground for the Jamaica theater in June 2000, and it is eager to dim the lights and roll the films, Hanson said.

The center is in the middle of the mile-long business district of Jamaica Avenue, and near the Jamaica station on the Long Island Rail Road, and the E, J, and Z subway lines. Starting next spring, the AirTrain light-rail system linking Jamaica to John F. Kennedy International Airport will also be running. All the transportation coming into Jamaica bodes well for downtown and the Jamaica Center, Hanson said.

Carol Hunt, a Jamaica resident and executive director of the Jamaica Service Program for Older Adults, Inc., already promised to be a repeat customer.

“I live across the street so I know I’ll be here all the time,” she said. “I always have to drive out of the community. It’ll be nice to have this here.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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