Dec. 4, 2007
The Long Island City of today is virtually unrecognizable from only a few years ago. Particularly true on its waterfront, the conglomeration of towns in western Queens continues to experience a boom in both commercial and residential development. Extensive changes are being wrought, in part the result of a municipal rezoning that is facilitating shifts from traditionally low-income industrial areas to future swank neighborhoods of artists and professionals. In 2001, the NYC department of City Planning decided that LIC’s rezoning would “promote a vibrant mix of housing, light industry, commercial enterprises and cultural activities in Hunters Point.” 5,000 units were reserved for families earning between $60,000 to $145,000 annually.
A key selling point of the area near the East River is its easy accessibility to midtown Manhattan. Residents enjoy riding on eight subway lines, eleven buses, the Long Island Rail Road and ferry. Long Island City affords residents a shorter commute by train to midtown than even the Upper East Side, for example. Grand Central Station is only 10 minutes away by train.
Other unique and highly exotic draws of LIC are its breathtaking views and active art scene. “The best view of Manhattan is right outside Manhattan,” said Eric Benaim of Nest Seekers, a real estate development corporation that is active in the area. Nancy Packes, sales director for the Hunter’s Point Condominiums project through development marketing company Brown Harris Stevens, said that her group wanted to be involved in LIC instead of, for example, similar projects currently under way in areas like Williamsburg. She said that this is because of our unique qualities, and similarities they saw between the LIC of today and the Greenwich Village of the past. Packes also discussed Hunters Points Condos’ interest in the area’s art scene, which they feel mirrors those of Chelsea, Tribeca, and SoHo.
“[Hunters Point’s mission in building is]: what do people want and, how do you deliver that at the most affordable price possible?” said Packes, going on to speak extensively of the Simone Development Companies, who built and designed the condos. “They are risk takers; they are definitely pioneers and they do things at a very high level. We wanted to be associated with people like this who are capable of making this manifest.”
The condos to which Packes is referring are luxury one-, two-, and three-bedroom units that feature a dizzying array of amenities. “We recognized what people want in this market is first of all an affordable home. Our purchaser is primarily a first-time buyer, so they needed to not be overly luxurious or expensive but they needed to be well laid-out with open kitchens so the living room and kitchen read like loft space,” said Packes.
The condos feature amenities like a terrace, which is included in the purchase price, as well as white oak cabinets (with an option to upgrade to more exotic woods). Each unit also has a large pantry with 70 to 100 linear feet of storage: every building also includes a private garden accessible by residents. Buyers may also purchase rooftop space, a great opportunity for those who can’t afford a weekend home in the Hamptons. The rooftop spaces will allow residents to have more private outdoor space, including the opportunity to set up a grill.
“You aren’t just buying an apartment, you’re buying a neighborhood,” exclaimed Packes as she discussed the attractive nature of LIC to prospective buyers. At this point, sales on the condos have not been opened, and Brown Harris Stevens is simply taking down names and information from prospective buyers at www.hunterspointcondos.com. At the time of publication, they reported having “almost 900 expressions of interest” by prospective buyers.
“The truth is the experience in Long Island City has been really frenzied and we don’t want to create a frenzied scene. We want people to have the maximum opportunity to be informed and to be involved in the initial pricing,” said Packes, explaining how the goal for purchasing is to be different than other developments in the area throughout recent years. Even the approach of attracting potential buyers has been different, as Hunter’s Point has been offering walking tours. The philosophy behind the tours is to extend the offer to prospective buyers who are not familiar with the neighborhood, providing an opportunity to compare these potential buyers to tourists in a foreign city. “Without a tour guide you may figure out where the Hilton is but you are never getting a flavor of that city,” said Packes in her discussion of the success of the tours. They provide prospective residents with insider knowledge of LIC, while also allowing an opportunity to converse with other prospective residents interested in purchasing condos.
Another key player in the newly residential areas of LIC has been the Queens division of Nest Seekers, a real estate development corporation that has been involved in the boom since it began. Benaim of Nest Seekers described public awareness of the real estate activity, saying “People finally have been woken up.” Benaim can’t believe the development of LIC’s waterfront has taken this long to gather steam. “It doesn’t make sense why it’s only happening now. How come no one said this 10 or 20 years ago when the area was just a parking lot where taxis would stop before heading to Manhattan?” says Benaim. Now that development has begun, he believes that the skyline of LIC will mirror that of Manhattan by 2012.
One of the key attractors to LIC and a major reason Benaim described Nest Seekers as becoming interested in the area is the “small town feel” the area possesses. This sentiment was also echoed by Packes, who described how the area encompasses “the small-town America we lost.” This small-town feel is something Benaim believes New Yorkers crave and believes is the true New York experience. “It’s a real neighborhood feel that you don’t get in Manhattan,” he said. He spoke about how he believes a true neighborhood experience isn’t possible in Manhattan because “there aren’t really New Yorkers living in Manhattan anymore. People who moved here, they want to live in Manhattan. All the real New Yorkers are living in the outer boroughs like Long Island City, Queens.” Benaim then went on to say, “(LIC) is a break from the fast pace which is Manhattan,” providing residents a relaxing place to have a home. With the development boom, the area’s demographics have undergone large changes in the past two years, which Benaim describes as “dramatic." The LIC neighborhood has changed from “60 to 70 year-old Irish and Italians to 20 to 30 year-old artists and professionals,” recalls Benaim.
It is the neighborhood charm that brought Nest Seekers into the LIC development fold. Benaim described their base of operations as“a little tiny office, we wanted to be able to blend well with the neighborhood. We want people to know that yes, we are a Manhattan firm but we are focusing on the community.” Benaim believes that this strategic choice has helped the company become integrated into the area. “I think a lot of people are happy that we are there, we aren’t taking over a big retail space with people saying ‘That’s a waste’,” he said. Personal connections to the locals have been of utmost importance as Nest Seekers makes a place for themselves in LIC. Benaim talks about being “friends with everyone: firefighters, supers, I’ve made it my business to be friends with them and let them know that we are here to stay.” It was this connection to the area, which he believes has given them an edge in what has become a highly competitive market. Benaim also runs a regular blog, which provides information about the LIC area for current residents as well as individuals who are beginning to explore the area. It can be found online at www.longisland-citynyc.com.
At this point in development, LIC is full of endless possibilities. Without a doubt there is something for everyone in this diverse and expanding neighborhood. The large-scale development means there is still time to become involved in the area. Although LIC doesn't yet move at the speed of a “New York minute,” things are changing quickly; with the new-found popularity prospective, buyers will need to act soon if they don't want to miss their opportunity.
– Sassafras Lowery