Blackout, real estate newsmakers in 2006

By Nathan Duke

Long Island City continued its growth as one of the city's burgeoning development centers as 27 housing structures, including the Rockrose Development Corp. project on Center Boulevard and The Gantry on 49th Avenue, were being built or planned at neighborhood sites during the year. The neighborhood also witnessed a corporate boom as Citigroup constructed its second tower and the United Nations Federal Credit Union built its first tower at Court Square. But the largest project was Silvercup Studios' $1 billion expansion along the Long Island City waterfront. The project includes eight new soundstages, 1,000 new apartments, retail and office space, a 40,000-square-foot catering hall, a 100,000-square-foot cultural institution and a waterfront esplanade. The expansion is expected to create 4,000 new jobs.But it was not all gains for the growing business community as The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. announced it would move back to Manhattan. But MetLife, which moved its headquarters to Long Island City in 2001 in exchange for millions in tax incentives, reached an agreement with the city in November, under which the company would keep 85 percent of its employees in the borough through June 2008 and 30 percent of its staff through December 2014. MetLife does not have to repay the city any of the $10 million in tax incentives it received, but forfeited $13.4 million in incentives it had not yet received as part of the deal. In late December, the company signed a 21-year lease for a building in Midtown Manhattan.But the biggest blow to the western Queens communities came on July 17 as Astoria, Long Island City, Woodside and Sunnyside were plunged into darkness for ten days during a massive blackout. The outage caused hundreds of thousands of residents to lose power, while businesses lost a total of millions of dollars in product, revenue and equipment.Elected officials slammed Con Edison's response to the blackout in a series of hearings and accused the utility of playing down the number of effected residents. Several businesses near Astoria's busy 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard intersection, including Planet Wings and Cold Stone Creamery, were forced to close permanently, but Con Ed decided to reimburse each business for only $7,000 in damages.The utility, which is responsible for supplying power to western Queens, released a 600-page report on the outage on Oct. 12, which blamed the incident on short-circuited cables, a substation circuit breaker malfunction and a surge as utility workers attempted to restore power. The utility maintained the blackout was beyond its control.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by email at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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