March 2004
Apartment building boom ahead in Long Island City
There has been talk about a boom in Long Island City for at least the last two decades.

Proximity to Manhattan, cheap rents, spectacular views and good transportation links have all been touted as reasons to come to the area.

While a commercial boom doesnít look likely to happen in the near future, given that Long Island City is "overflow" space that isnít in demand now because of the weak office market in Manhattan, there has been impressive activity on the residential side.

As part of the Queens West project as well as other developments slated for the area, there will likely be a minimum of 5,000 units that will go online in Long Island City in the next seven years.

Rockrose Development.has plans for seven residential buildings at the Queens West site, with construction on the first building beginning this fall. Each building will be around 500 units, including the first building, which will be 32 stories tall.

AvalonBay Communities, a public REIT, is planning to build a total of 250 more units at the Queens West site, with construction starting before the end of the year.

"I think that these projects will be the turning point for Long Island City," said Jon McMillan, director of planning at Rockrose. "People are going to recognize it as an exciting place to live."

Queens West, which is located on the waterfront, is part of a state initiative that began in 1984. Already, two buildings have been completed- the 522-unit City Lights, which opened in 1997, and the 372-rental unit Avalon Riverview, which opened last year.

There is relatively little other housing stock in Long Island City, mostly two and three story buildings east of Queens West.

Fred Harris, senior vice president for development at AvalonBay, said occupancy at the Riverview project is well over 95 percent, and is mostly drawing people who work in Midtown, including people new to the city.

"We have a heavy representation of new arrivals in the city," he said. Residents tend to be young, Harris said, though the project is also being marketed to empty nesters from the suburbs.

In general, rents are roughly 20 percent off comparable new construction in Manhattan, said Harris. A one-bedroom runs $2,350 a month for 13 months, less two free months rent. "Plus, you get a little higher level of amenity," said Harris. "Every apartment has a washer and dryer."

Queens West has good access to transportation - less than a five-minute walk to the subway - though neighborhood amenities are relatively scarce, including no supermarkets.

One positive sign, however, was the opening of the Riverview Restaurant & Lounge at the base of the Avalon building last month, "the first retail use of that caliber," said Harris.

The views are also a big selling point. "The view are unbelievable," said McMillan. "You feel very psychologically close to Manhattan."

Going forward, the Rockrose project will transform the area. The company plans to bring in retailers and even build an elementary school. Most important is a large public park along the waterfront.

"The public environment we will be able to create along the waterfront will make the project," McMillan said.

There are also other projects in the works in Long Island City.

One is the East River Tennis Club project, just south of the Queensboro Bridge. The project will consist of more than one million square feet on the East River, said Andrew Gerringer, managing director of Douglas Ellimanís Development Marketing Group, which just signed an agreement to work on the project. "Itís a great site overlooking all of midtown Manhattan," Gerringer said.

Another project, located by the Triborough Bridge on 21st Street, is in the works, said Frank Zuckerbrot, executive vice president at brokerage Sholom & Zuckerbrot. Plans are also in the works for Silvercup Studios West, a two million square foot residential, production studio, office, cultural, and retail space, with an architect, Lord Richard Rogers, best known for his work with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, hired this summer.

One enormous wildcard is the building of an Olympic Village on part of the Queens West site if the city is awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. The village could provide housing for 18,000 New Yorkers after the games are over.

"Thatís obviously a huge thing," said McMillan. "If it happens, weíll try to figure out a way to do it intelligently and not destroy the other projects in the process."