Borough Board Hears Plans To Expand Tourism Efforts
Attracting visitors to Queens and then helping them leave constituted the two main items of discussion at the April meeting of the Queens borough board last Monday.
Terri Osborne, Queens County Economic Development Corporation director of marketing and tourism, told the chairpersons of Queens’ 14 community planning boards and members of the borough’s City Council delegation that the borough has untapped potential as a tourist destination.
Osborne took issue with the commonly accepted definition of a tourist as one who lives more than 50 miles away from the location being visited. "That doesn’t make sense in New York City," she said. Given the geographic nature of the city and the tri-state area of which it is the hub, travelers come to Queens from communities well within the 50-mile radius but still see the borough as completely outside their experience.
The campaign to boost tourism in Queens arose from a summit meeting in July 2003 at which efforts to make the borough a desirable tourist destination were bolstered by publications and brochures that highlighted the many cultural and historic attractions to be found. The borough’s tourism Web site generated more than 100,000 hits when it first went up, she said. Borough President Helen Marshall and other elected officials noted that their constituents use the Web site and take the tours offered, such as the Flushing Trolley and the Jazz Trail. Marshall pointed out that another source of information, a visitors’ kiosk in a former "redbird" subway car, will be set up on the lawn at Borough Hall shortly.
Other attempts to make Queens recognizable as a tourist destination include public service advertisements on National Public Radio and a car custom license plate bearing the slogan "Discover Queens". "We need to get on the radar screens for events like national conventions," Osborne said. It was pointed out that Athens Square Park, at 30th Avenue and 30th Road in Community Board 1 has attracted audiences to its performance series featuring international artists for several years, indicating that local attractions do not receive the attention they deserve. Members of the board also pointed out that the Queens Borough Public Library is both a tourist attraction and a source of information which is at present underused. "We’ve just established an art oasis on Jamaica Avenue in the former Jamaica Bank building, that not many people outside the borough know about," Marshall added. In light of this development, the community boards have been asked to appoint a member, or a knowledgeable person from the community, to take charge of tourism efforts.
Visitors to Queens will get another taste of the borough’s offerings at the Jamaica terminal of the AirTrain to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Faced with having to choose one theme from among the borough’s many cultural attractions, representatives of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to note the borough’s many contributions to jazz. Permanent porcelainized banners with the legend "jazz Queens" carrying stylized jazz and musical instrument motifs are hung in the Howard Beach and Jamaica AirTrain stations and a 20-foot-long wall at the 94th Avenue terminal bears the many names of legendary jazz composers and performers associated with Queens.
Marshall praised the Port Authority for its work and asked the community boards to recognize those efforts by sending letters of support for the AirTrain project to the New York City Art Commission. "The Port Authority recognizes that New York City is not just Manhattan," she said.
The AirTrain, which went into operation Dec. 17, 2003, connects the JFK central terminal area with Downtown Jamaica. Passengers coming from Manhattan to JFK can transfer from the subway system and the long Island Rail Road to the AirTrain and then ride out to the airport.
Despite some vehicular and switching problems when the AirTrain first opened, on many days the line has achieved 98 percent reliability, Steve Plate, AirTrain director, told the board. "Many times the JFK AirTrain exceeds the Newark Airport AirTrain in reliability and availability," he added.
The increase in reliability has meant an increase in the passenger load, Plate said. From a nadir of several thousand passengers per day in January and February, ridership has steadily increased. "We’re seeing between 15,000 and 20,000 passengers per day right now, and we expect to reach our target of 30,000 per day by the end of the year," Plate said. Half of the passengers riding the AirTrain come from Howard Beach and Jamaica, he added.
The AirTrain route runs along the Van Wyck Expressway, and its right of way has been the focus of intensive beautification efforts, Elizabeth Kennedy, also representing the AirTrain, said. "Landscaping is important," she said. "There’s an urban forest along the Van Wyck, and we wanted to maintain and restore the understory and recreate the floral carpet along the forest floor." At the Howard Beach station, special efforts were made to preserve the existing memorial sculpture to Veterans of Foreign Wars. City Councilmember Leroy Comrie, whose district encompasses much of the AirTrain route, thanked the Port Authority representatives for their strenuous efforts to maintain the character of the neighborhoods through which the AirTrain passes. Betty Braton, chairperson of Community Board 10, also thanked the Port Authority for their considerable efforts at interacting with the community boards to make sure that as many needs and desires as possible were satisfied in the course of the project.