Sunday, November 21, 2010
Jamaica Leaders Hope Wonder Bread Successor Will Boost Downtown by Keith Honen - Crain's New York Business
With Hostess Brands Inc.'s decision last month to shutter its out-of-date Wonder Bread factory in Queens, some 200 workers are about to lose their jobs, and another piece of the city's manufacturing sector will slip away.
But for the surrounding neighborhood of Jamaica, the closure could yet have a positive impact, as it frees up a 100,000-square-foot factory in the heart of one of the largest commercial hubs in the borough. The change comes at a time when local business leaders are seeking to refocus the downtown area.
“The bakery has served the region for 125 years, basing its success on the site's proximity to mass transit and access to a vast market for its products,'' says Carlisle Towery, president of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp. “[The site's availability] presents a tremendous opportunity.”
The area's existing shopping district, centered mostly along Jamaica and Hillside avenues, features both ethnic shops and national chain stores and restaurants. Business leaders hope to add a wider variety of stores and entertainment to attract patrons from the borough's most powerful economic engine: John F. Kennedy International Airport. The area offers a number of transportation links, including the AirTrain, but relatively little that can persuade the flight attendants, pilots and tourists passing through Jamaica to stop and spend some money.
Jack Friedman, executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, says his group is focused on cashing in on the city's expanding tourism industry, and Jamaica is one area where that's a possibility. A massive rezoning three years ago helped set the stage by green-lighting larger commercial towers and hotels around the AirTrain station.
A spokeswoman from Hostess Brands say it is too early to determine what business will succeed Wonder Bread; the company will begin the process of selling the facility after its planned Jan. 7 shutdown. At this point, she notes, the company is concentrating on assisting workers in finding jobs or accessing unemployment benefits. She adds that the popular Wonder Bread outlet store formerly based out of the factory will be kept open; it will move to nearby a storefront and will be stocked by the closest factories, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Meanwhile, not everyone is convinced that Jamaica is ready for a star turn with tourists.
“I don't see people hopping off the AirTrain or the Van Wyck Expressway to come here,'' says City Councilman Leroy Comrie, who represents Jamaica.
He believes that city officials would do better to seek another food manufacturer for the Wonder Bread site—perhaps even one that would be involved in high-end food catering for JFK or one of the airlines operating there.
The odds against food makers finding the amount of space they need in the city at a price they can afford are increasingly long. Earlier this year, Sabra Dipping Co. sold its hummus factory in Astoria, Queens, after it decided to move production to a bigger space in Richmond, Va. Old London Foods' melba toast factory and the Stella D'oro bakery—both in the Bronx—were recently shut down as the companies moved operations to larger factories in North Carolina and Ohio, respectively.
Downtown Jamaica isn't the only area in the borough trying to tap into JFK's rich tourist market. Aqueduct Racetrack in nearby Ozone Park hopes to lure tourists, too, as new operator Genting New York begins a $1.3 billion upgrade to the track and the construction of a racino. The venue, located just a few blocks from the airport and surrounding hotels, will feature video slot machines, a food court and a bar with performance space.