Following a year of cutting through red tape – and mulling a move to Florida – JetBlue has been given the green light to provide Long Island City with a “sign” that they are here to stay.
The City Council voted unanimously on April 30 to approve a zoning amendment allowing companies to construct signs on non-residential buildings along 14 blocks of a
Queens Plaza sub-district – which runs between 23rd Street and the Sunnyside railroad yard.
The changes were pushed by JetBlue so the airline could construct a sign of its logo on the rooftop of its new headquarters in the Brewster Building, located at 27-01 Queens Plaza North in L.I.C.
JetBlue was considering departing New York and landing in Orlando last year, but was ultimately enticed into staying by a city package consisting of tax exemptions and marketing-relating incentives – reportedly reaching $30 million. The airline moved to the Brewster Building on April 4, bringing 1,000 of its 5,300 Queens-based employees to L.I.C.
“We are New York’s hometown airline and this sign will reinforce our status as an iconic New York brand,” said Tamara Young, manager of corporate communications for JetBlue. “We are proud to be here and we are proud to be a neighbor in L.I.C. We want to introduce ourselves to our neighbors and be a part of the driving force in the development that is taking place in the neighborhood. This sign is a way to do that.”
The proposed placard will be formed out of a steel box with an acrylic face and will be illuminated at night by high efficiency LED light strips, making the letters blue during the day and appear white after sundown. It will be 42 feet high and 75 feet wide – with the tallest letter reaching 25 feet – and will encompass similar qualities to other historic advertisements across the neighborhood, including the Silvercup and Pepsi signs. If no other obstacles are encountered, JetBlue believes the sign will be installed early in the fall.
Zoning regulations put in place in 2001 restricted the height of new signs in manufacturing districts to 40 feet above curb level. In order to rewrite the rules, JetBlue initially had to receive approval from Community Boards (CB) 1 and 2. Although CB 1 passed the airline’s application, the board members did suggest the “rooftop sign be limited to a tenant that occupied a minimum of 25 percent of the total building area” and that subleasing not be allowed. CB 2 voted unanimously against the changes, citing the “lack of oversight and community input and comment on any future rooftop signs.”
CB 2 was reportedly concerned that too many signs would sprout up on neighborhood buildings, causing a similar scene to Las Vegas or Times Square.
Dutch Kills Civic Association President Jerry Walsh believes the zoning rules should not be comprehensive, but each case should be studied independently.
“I think each sign should be looked at individually. It shouldn’t be a blanket thing,” Walsh said. “You have to be a major renter of the building to put a sign up. You can’t live in a closet and expect to get a sign up. We don’t want to see flashing signs like on 42nd Street.”
To ease community apprehension, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer worked with the Department of City Planning to rework the amendment – stipulating that only tenants that occupied 20 percent or 50,000 square feet of a building could erect a sign on its roof.
CB 2 subsequently approved the proposal, followed by a City Council subcommittee on zoning and the entire council.
Van Bramer said he is not worried about the area resembling the glitzy midtown Manhattan attraction due to the few buildings that are eligible to apply for signs. The councilmember went on to say he believes the number of signs will ultimately be minimal, while the passage of the amendment is an important step for JetBlue’s success.
“I think the arrival of JetBlue is great news for L.I.C.,” Van Bramer said. “Its sign will be a visual reminder of the transformation and rebirth of the Dutch Kills and Queens Plaza area. I think it will be a sign that L.I.C. is open for business and good for business. JetBlue brings vitality and energy and life. I hope it will attract more businesses to come to Queens Plaza, Dutch Kills and L.I.C.”