Smokin' hot Long Island City roars back to lifers Point

BNET

Stuart Fox
June 20, 2007

Too late for that loft conversion in the Meat Packing District? Didn't move fast enough on that condo in Williamsburgh? Well, don't say you weren't warned this time, because Long Island City has arrived.

A combination of new condo construction, conversion of older industrial properties, and even the rumors of a Marriott has worked together to transform the Queen's neighborhood into the next residential hot spot.

Eric Benaim, a vice president of project marketing at Nest Seekers who runs a blog that covers Long Island City, hosts walking tours of the neighborhood every weekend. The blog, longislandcityny.com, covers the residential market in the area which Benaim has been watching change for some years now.

"It used to be people in their 50's, and it was predominately Irish and Italian. I noticed things were going to change about four years, and slowly new projects began to open up. First came the Gantry. Then when the Arris Lofts opened up, I knew this was going to be a big thing," said Benaim.

In 2001, rezoning allowed the mostly industrial neighborhood to be developed for residential construction. The first development to test the potential of Long Island City was the Gantry, a six story condo with 47 one, two, and three bedroom apartments. First opened in spring 2006, the Gantry attracted hundreds of applicants before the doors even opened.

While the Gantry attempted to replicate Manhattan and Brooklyn style condos, the Arris Lofts--which debuted shortly after--aimed for a design more unique to Long Island City. It provided not only 217 of the titular open space apartments, but also 17 commercial artist lofts. This addition has allowed the tower to integrate itself organically into a neighborhood with a prominent artistic community. "When I first read about [Arris Lofts], I started putting the word out to my clients and colleagues that this would be a good place to move," said Benaim, "I started building up my client base for that particular building. The weekend it opened, I had 18 contracts out, and I closed 11."

In fact, Benaim was so impressed by the Arris Lofts that, after showing his clients the building and walking them through the property, he ended up buying an apartment in the building himself.

In the fall of 2006, the Arris and the Gantry were joined by Queens Plaza, a 10 story building with 66 one and two bedroom apartments being marketed by the Developers Group, which is also marketing View59, the first glass curtain wall condominium in Long Island City, and the Echelon, a mixed-use condominium with 3,000 s/ f of retail space on the ground floor.

David Behim, an executive vice president at the Developers Group, has been seeing more enthusiasm in these properties than anyone ever expected.

"It is an area where there's a lot of movement going on. There are a lot of buyers coming in from Manhattan, it's affordable compared to Manhattan, and it's faster to get into downtown than it is getting there than from the Upper West Side," said Behim.

Other new or soon to be operational buildings helping transform the area include The Badge Building, 44-27 Purves Street, simply known as Purves Street, 10-50 Jackson Avenue, 5th Street Lofts which is known as 5SL (a Toll Brothers Development), Fusion LIC, CASA Viscaya, 1 Hunters Point and Hunters View Condo.

One of the most interesting developments under construction right now is also an perfect exemplar of the unique character of the neighborhood. The Powerhouse is an old Shwartz Chemical Plant, which is being converted into 180 luxury condos.

According to Behim, the buildings' past as an industrial complex does not deter customers, but rather, it attracts them. "LIC has an industrial component to it that you don't have in places like Greenpoint or Bed Stuy. That's something that most neighborhoods in New York City don't have ... it will always have some of that grit to it, and that attracts people," said Behim.

However, simply building condominiums does not ensure that they will fill with tenants. Ultimately, it is the nature of the neighborhood that has been the driving force behind all of the development. Long Island City provides easy access to Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, in addition to Long Island. By subway, a commuter can reach midtown faster from Long Island City than they could from the Upper West Side.

The community is a vibrant, artistic one anchored with the MOMA/PS 1 gallery and many smaller galleries as well. Independent coffee and teashops, such as Communitea, abound and the area is seeing a boom in retail openings.

In keeping with the comparisons with Williamsburgh, some have taken to calling Vernon Boulevard the "Bedford Avenue" of Queens.

Long Island City is also home to Silver Cup Studios. One of the largest studios outside of California, Silver Cup has hosted the filming of 30 Rock, Sex in the City, and until recently, the Sopranos.

And then, of course, there is the waterfront. The NY Water Taxi, which ferries residents to Manhattan, has constructed an artificial beach on the East River. One of the only beaches in New York City that does not border the ocean, the Water Taxi Beach has become an epicenter of summer partying for the neighborhood.

Along with the beach comes the view. Unlike properties in Manhattan, condos in Queens actually provide a view of the Manhattan skyline.

The limited amount of space abutting the coast of Queens has produced an interesting dichotomy in the development of condominiums in the area.

In Long Island City, condos constructed farther inland tend to be redeveloped industrial buildings, and thus offer very large loft properties. Closer to the East River, the condominiums are newly built and tend to have smaller spaces, but far more impressive views.

Ultimately, the residential transformation of Long Island City stands as the harbinger of further change to come. The symbiotic relationship between the colonization of a neighborhood by residential, then retail, then office space, has set in motion a positive feed back loop that will drastically alter Long Island City in the future.

While it is currently being touted as a hub of residential development, can the wave of retail and office developments be far behind?