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Smith says AirTrain plans should boost Jamaica biz

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Smith is encouraging the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., or LMDC, which is spearheading the AirTrain extension program, to include the incentives to draw businesses and investors to the area around the station at Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue, he said in a Monday telephone interview.

"While I am very excited that this rail project - this 'super-shuttle' - is moving forward with Jamaica being included as a significant transfer point in this new engine for economic development, I would also suggest that the Jamaica area be seen as more than just a corridor of passage to Lower Manhattan," Smith said. "I strongly believe the focus must also be on the development of Jamaica as a destination to which people come to work, visit and shop."

The AirTrain connecting Kennedy Airport to mass transportation options in downtown Jamaica and Howard Beach was hailed as an economic revitalization tool for the Jamaica area. The Greater Jamaica Development Corp., a local business group, has been working to bring retail, office, hotel and housing projects to the area to serve the aviation industry's employees and customers.

But as soon as the AirTrain opened in December, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others began pushing for an extension into Manhattan to provide a one-seat ride from the airport into the city.

Smith and others are calling for the project leaders, including Lower Manhattan Development Corp. Chairman John Whitehead, to ensure Jamaica gets its piece of the pie.

"We're trying to encourage Chairman Whitehead and the governor and telling them, 'don't just make downtown Jamaica a transfer station,'" Smith said. "This should be a space where people come and stay for the night."

Since the AirTrain falls under the purview of the Port Authority's airport property, it could be eligible for federal dollars, Smith said. The lawmaker would also like to see a portion of the money the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. is getting for the AirTrain project go toward development in downtown Jamaica. Funds could be used to underwrite the process to build a hotel above the AirTrain station or to do studies outlining how best to develop the area.

Joanna Rose, spokeswoman for the development corporation, said her organization's primary concern is Lower Manhattan - not Jamaica.

"By the end of April we will be releasing the route for rail access," she said. "We are looking forward to working with all the state legislators and agencies involved."

But Smith said added business in downtown Jamaica could benefit both the city and state economies.

"The main thing is that they recognize the significance of developing the area around the AirTrain," he said. "It will contribute to the tax base in the city and the state."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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