5Pointz graffiti mecca might become condos

Jerry Wolkoff, who owns 5Pointz in Long Island City, is planning on redeveloping the graffiti mecca into a residential and commercial property. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rebecca Henely

Long Island developer Jerry Wolkoff said he is in talks to redevelop 5Pointz, the famous graffiti-covered former factory at Davis Street and Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, and convert it into two residential towers — a decision that upsets the curator of the “aerosol artists.”

“To tear down what has been created would be no different than tearing down any other institution,” said Jonathan “MeresOne” Cohen, the curator of 5Pointz, an outdoor aerosol art center. “It’s a big blow to the art form.”

But despite his plans, Wolkoff said he will not be leaving the aerosol artists completely out in the cold and will have spaces for them at the redeveloped site.

“I think they’re terrific,” Wolkoff said of the artists. “I love them.”

Wolkoff said about a month ago he had a meeting with the Queens City Planning Department about his plans to redevelop the site, which the developer has owned for 40 years, into two residential towers with commercial properties on the ground floor. He said he plans to leave a wall in the rear, about a block high and a block long, of the building for aerosol artists to continue working and to have artist studios in the tower.

“I think it’ll just create a lot of energy for the whole area,” Wolkoff said.

He said that while the artists will lose a lot of space, it will still give them a chance to express themselves.

The property was initially commercial, but when it became vacant Wolkoff allowed graffiti artists to paint on the outside of the building. He said he had been planning to redevelop 5Pointz for a while but decided to push for development now because the construction industry is hurting and he believes the project will bring more jobs to the area. Wolkoff said he also believes the real estate market will have recovered by the time he is finished.

“I think that it’s necessary,” he said.

Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, said the development has been on the board’s radar for a long time. He said the board will most likely request open space and a space for artists or affordable housing.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the plans,” Conley said.

Cohen said he had heard of Wolkoff’s plans throughout the years but still finds the prospect upsetting. He said he worried this would leave artists without a legal outlet to express themselves and may create illegal graffiti elsewhere.

Since he began operating 5Pointz, which had previously been known as the Phun Phactory in 2001, Cohen said he has seen what he calls the “outdoor art exhibit” thrive. He said the spot has been featured in numerous books and travel magazines and has become a mecca for graffiti artists.

“You’re destroying a landmark,” he said.

Nevertheless, he had good words for Wolkoff.

“I’m very grateful for everything he’s allowed us to do,” Cohen said. “But in the same sense, I’m also sad.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

More from Around New York