By Dustin Brown
For many of the 350 MetLife employees who migrated across the East River into Long Island City Monday, the transition involved little more than the flip of a box lid and a shift in commute.
They left their offices at 1 Madison Ave. by 3 p.m. Friday after safely stowing the contents of their tabletops and shelves into boxes. By Saturday morning, the army of cardboard boxes had found its way to their stations at a newly renovated Bridge Plaza Tech Center on Queens Plaza, where the company plans to move a total of 950 associates by March of next year.
“We managed this right down to the lowest level of detail, because our goal was that when people walked in today, they were productive,” said Marge Kelly, a vice president in facilities and services who coordinated the move into Long Island City.
The move went so smoothly that employees said they were already holding business meetings Monday morning within hours after riding the subway into Queens for the first time.
“I’m unpacked and sending e-mails,” Deb Capolarello, a senior vice president in human resources, said early Monday afternoon.
MetLife announced in February that it had signed a deal with Credit Suisse First Boston to lease out the majority of its space at its 1 Madison Ave. headquarters. Although sites in New Jersey and Westchester County were under consideration to house some of the 2,000 employees displaced by the deal, Long Island City won out because employees overwhelmingly supported a location that was well-connected to mass transit. Other employees will be moved to White Plains and Jersey City.
While Long Island City is home to seven subway lines and is only a stop away from Manhattan on many of them, some associates at MetLife had not even heard of the neighborhood before the move was announced.
“I assumed Long Island City was on Long Island,” said Ralph Chaump, a New Jersey resident who only began commuting into MetLife’s Manhattan offices a year ago.
But they have begun rapidly acquainting themselves with the area, which has been pegged the city’s next major business district and was rezoned earlier this year to permit higher-density development.
The neighborhood is already in transition. One employee said she had noticed a change in its character since her last visit just three months ago.
The mayor’s office announced last month that QMPG Associates will raze the Queens Plaza Municipal Garage and construct in its place a 1.5-million-square-foot commercial office center.
Meanwhile, MetLife is already planning another expansion of its own, having received approval from two community boards and the Borough Board for a minor change in zoning that would allow the company to erect a 16-story tower behind the Long Island City facility to house 1,000 additional employees.
The company is also working closely with the city Economic Development Corporation as well as the Department of City Planning, which is now studying ways to improve the flow of traffic and pedestrians in Long Island City and to beautify the Queens Plaza area.
“It’s going to be lovely,” Kelly said.
But some employees have their own notions of how they expect Long Island City to evolve.
“There’s no doubt that I’d like to see a Starbucks at some point,” Capolarello said.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.