AAFE has unveiled plans for a first-of its-kind neighborhood hub in Flushing, Queens, a 90,000 square foot center offering new small business opportunities, local services and community engagement.
The Center for Community and Entrepreneurship, located at 133-04 39th Avenue, will serve as a vital hub for economic development in Flushing. AAFE has partnered with two leading design firms, JCJ Architecture and Leong Leong, to create an innovative building that fulfills AAFE’s mission of service, community development and inclusion.
The project includes a ground floor retail marketplace, a sweeping public plaza, Flushing’s first incubator/co-working facility, a flexible community space for a wide range of events and AAFE’s expanded community services center.
“From the beginning,” said AAFE Executive Director Chris Kui, “our goal was to build a space from the ground up with the community at its heart.” “This design engages the community by offering a wholly unique public space that also allows AAFE to expand on its current social services. With the introduction of two exciting new entrepreneurial venues, our immigrant community will have the opportunity and tools to build businesses here in their own neighborhood. I’m excited to announce this entrepreneurial one-stop shop and I can’t wait to open its doors to all of Flushing.”
The building’s design – inside and out – emphasizes openness and transparency. It’s set back from the bustling intersection of 39th Avenue and College Point Boulevard in order to accommodate a 2100 square foot outdoor plaza. Pedestrians will be immediately drawn to the welcoming outdoor green space and adjoining 5,000 square foot marketplace. Equipped with free wifi and phone charging stations, the market includes a wide staircase that doubles as bleacher seating. It will be an ideal place to meet friends for lunch, hold an impromptu business meeting or catch up on email.
The staircase will lead visitors to the second floor events space, a 9,000 square foot facility that can be configured in a variety of ways for casual gatherings, more formal presentations and exhibitions, or for entertaining. The space will help fill a critical need in Flushing for publicly available, affordable meeting venues.
The third floor will be home to AAFE’s new startup business incubator, a collaborative co-working environment. It will offer affordable spaces for fledgling entrepreneurs in the early stages of developing new businesses. Members of the incubator will be able to network with other startups in a supportive setting. They’ll have access to a full range of support services from Renaissance Economic Development Corp., an AAFE affiliate, which will have offices on the fourth floor of the building. Renaissance is a CDFI-certified organization providing a suite of small business support services, including individual counseling, low-interest loans, and skill-building seminars.
The center will house AAFE’s program offices, extending the organization’s longstanding community services in Flushing. In addition to small business support, these services include: home loans, homeownership counseling, workforce development, citizenship workshops, entitlement program assistance, English language classes and college readiness programs.
The building’s top floors feature offices for new and existing Flushing businesses. These commercial spaces will offer opportunities for startups born in the third floor incubator to expand, as well as for local community organizations or other neighborhood businesses to build their footprint. The offices will provide foot traffic for the small businesses below, fill a community need, spur economic vitality and job growth in the neighborhood and provide economic stability to the center.
The building also includes a two-level underground parking lot that will create additional parking spaces for the neighborhood.
Local leaders are weighing in on the new project, which represents a major new commitment by AAFE to the Flushing community.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng said, “I am pleased to join AAFE in celebrating its new expansion in Flushing. It’s new Center for Community and Entrepreneurship will play an important role in helping to expand social services and economic development to those who work and live in the area, and I thank the organization for its investment and commitment to the community.”
Assemblymember Ron Kim said, “I’m proud to support the expansion of AAFE’s presence and services in Downtown Flushing… (It) will be part of the transformation of the College Point neighborhood, (attracting)… even more people and businesses to this region. Kim added, “It’s important to not only celebrate the construction of a much-needed office building but also (to) work together to improve the overall public infrastructure and transportation of this region.”
“As Flushing continues to grow,” said Council member Peter Koo, “we must make sure to carve out space for community-based, public service organizations that serve the people who live, work and play in our neighborhoods. AAFE’s Center for Community Entrepreneurship will serve to combine needed public, community and small-business facilities that will further enhance the social and economic development of Flushing.”
Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, “I am so pleased to welcome the expansion of AAFE’s new Center for Community and Entrepreneurship project. This hub will provide vital support for the community through economic development and social services. Flushing has proven to be a metropolis for small businesses, and what better way to encourage this even more, than with an affordable office incubator where entrepreneurs and new companies can network and collaborate. I am especially happy to see an outdoor community plaza will be included, creating a welcoming atmosphere for everyone in the neighborhood. I wish to congratulate Asian Americans for Equality on their newest expansion.”
Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing BID said, “We want to congratulate AAFE, our neighbor and partner, on their new endeavor to afford business startups the opportunity to stay local. This new facility will generate more higher-paying jobs, which in turn will retain local high-tech talent. We are excited for the wonderful impact that the center will make on the Flushing BID district. Let’s make Downtown Flushing a better place to live and work.”
John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, said, “We support AAFE’s new Center for Community and Entrepreneurship, which will greatly expand our capacity to assist small business owners in Flushing, This project is an incredible investment on the part of AAFE in the Flushing community.”
Ken Cohen, president of the NAACP Northeast Branch in Queens, noted that his organization and AAFE have been partners in the fight for equality in Flushing for 16 years. He added, “This center will undoubtedly bring people together, strengthen our community bond and provide greater opportunity for economic growth and prosperity for all the people of Flushing. We look forward to our continued partnership in the neighborhood and helping put these new tools to work and make Flushing a better place for all.”
The design team for the new building fully embraced AAFE’s four-decade-long dedication to serving and engaging its diverse communities.
“Having known AAFE for many years,” said JCJ Architecture Principal Peter Bachmann, “it is inspiring to be designing a building that is so uniquely an outgrowth of the organization’s mission, further establishing itself in the heart of Flushing. The Center for Community and Entrepreneurship will become a physical manifestation of all AAFE has been working for over 40 years. Focused on the idea that strong design can build community, JCJ Architecture is proud to be partnered with Leong Leong to lead this project.”
Chris Leong, partner at Leong Leong, said, “We are in a new paradigm of urbanism, where interconnectivity between spaces of collaboration and the city is critical. So the goal of the project was unique from the start—how can we create a vertically-integrated community for Flushing that links together work, events, and the public. Our design integrates a multiplicity of uses within a singular urban form, making the Center both a platform and emblem for AAFE and for Flushing.”
The Center for Community and Entrepreneurship is one of two major projects AAFE has undertaken in Flushing. Earlier this year, the organization announced One Flushing, a mixed-use project on 41st Avenue. It will provide 231 affordable apartments, including critically needed senior housing, spaces for small retailers, a large community center and a range of senior services. The project is a collaboration with Monadnock Development and HANAC, a Queens-based not-for-profit.