2012-03-16 / Top Stories

Meeks Jamaica Project ‘Another Boondoggle’

By Howard Schwach


Congressman Gregory Meeks, second from right, with other politicians and dignitaries at the ribbon cutting for the facility. Congressman Gregory Meeks, second from right, with other politicians and dignitaries at the ribbon cutting for the facility. Congressman Gregory Meeks has another bridge he wants you to buy.

Two years after it opened as an “incubator” for small businesses, the $2.5 million Jamaica Export Centre — built with mostly taxpayer cash furnished by Meeks and other local politicians — is virtually deserted.

The dusty reception desk, which was supposed to serve up to eight businesses, is unoccupied. Downstairs, a meeting room is empty, and a sign out front says it is available for baby showers and birthday parties.

The 8,000-square-foot building near Kennedy Airport opened with great fanfare in 2010. Its mission was to help freight-forwarding and export companies owned by minorities and women. The businesses would get subsidized rent and shared services, such as a receptionist and meeting room.

Among the pols who showed up for the ribbon cutting were Meeks, State Assemblywoman Michele Titus, who represents the east end of Rockaway, and City Councilman Leroy Comrie, Democrats who each secured cash for the project.

About $1.7 million in taxpayer funds went into buying the old tire shop on Rockaway Boulevard and re- placing it with the gleaming new two-story building.

The state Dormitory Authority kicked in another $450,000 to buy a ramshackle house behind the property, which was torn down to create an ample parking lot.

Meeks, Titus, and some others came up with the public money for the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the project, even though its president, Robert Richards, readily admitted that the group had never run a business incubator. “We don’t have a lot of experience here,’’ Richards told Crain’s New York business in 2006.

Now, just two businesses and a nonprofit have rented space at the center, and have done so only in the last five months. Richards refused to name the firms, but said they were not freight forwarders.

He said the center was counting on the government to keep the funding spigot on, but the end of state pork-barrel spending in 2010 wrecked the project.

Meeks, who secured some $300,000 in congressional earmarks, told the New York Post, “I only wish there were more resources to continue supporting this worthwhile mission.”

A federal magistrate recently set new Congressional lines that would join the two Rockaway districts into one, forcing Meeks to run against Republican Bob Turner for the one seat, although there are strong indications that newly-elected Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who lives in Far Rockaway, may well force a primary race by running against Meeks for the seat.

Meeks may well be vulnerable because he is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee as well as by state and federal law enforcement agencies for his involvement in a non-profit he founded along with State Senator Malcolm Smith and for a charity he founded to help Hurricane Katrina victims who fled to New York City.

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