LIC after Sandy

Writing in the days after Sandy I simply could not avoid thinking how this event may affect real estate business for years to come. Although the condo building where I live was spared any damage (floor waters stopped 10 feet from our garage before they started to recede), the Murano on Borden Avenue was hit twice as hard — in addition to flood damage to their lobby, rec room, gym and garage, the city’s sewage lines back-flowed into their mechanical room, adding insult to injury (or smelly mess to water damage). Turns out Con Ed won’t work to restore your electricity until you make the area clean for them. They estimate from $100,000 to $250,000 in damages. Among the new buildings, the worst water damage occurred at the City Lights, Powerhouse and the Foundry buildings, where the flood waters reached as high as 5 feet above ground, including some private apartments. Amazingly, the piers and Gantry Park did not sustain too much damage, testament to how well they were designed and built. We cannot discount damages that businesses like Riverview and Crabhouse restaurants or Brighter Babies and LIC Kids facilities have sustained, not to mention all the small warehouses, offices and of course individual homes that got caught in Sandy’s surge, which reached as far east as half-way between 5th Street and Vernon Boulevard all the way up to Borden Avenue in the south, and 46th Drive and Vernon Boulevard in the north (where my own car was treated to 3 feet of water!)

It was refreshing to see resilient parents march their kids at the Halloween parade the day after the storm, and restaurants on Vernon packed with residents supporting local retailers as if they wanted to show how much they appreciated getting through it all relatively untouched. But overall damage a dozen of businesses in Hunters Point may actually put them close to the brink of closing doors, regardless of insurance coverage or defiant stance of its proprietors. In a small market like LIC, even a small hit, like low health department grade or destruction of locals’ favorite park next door can strain a retailer’s bottom line. Let’s hope that our local businesses recover quickly.

There are other things to consider, too. If shortage of gasoline does not get resolved soon, we may start seeing empty shelves and reduced menus, as wholesalers and distributors can’t put their delivery trucks on the road without fuel. Even local Fresh Direct deliveries take a minimum of 2 days now. And already I have heard superintendents and general contractors discussing presenting preventive measures to landlords and condo boards… flood water barricade systems, levies, French drain and sump pump systems, shutters and other solutions for properties located near the East River. Although in Astoria and Sunnyside a lot of trees have been knocked down, the devastating effect of surprise water surge in parts of LIC, Brooklyn and College Point, to name a few, is what everyone seems to want to prevent in the future. After all, no one has seen the river flood this far in their lifetime and this was now a second hurricane to reach us in 14 months.

Instead of bold predictions, analysis or data, all of which would obviously be guesswork at best, I am leaving you with some questions to which no one yet has answers: Will values of real estate in LIC drop because we are clearly in the flood and hurricane zone? Or will they keep going up because we proved that properties here can withstand the worst kind of storm, and the neighborhood can recover quickly? Will prospective tenants, both commercial and residential, begin to look at Hunters Point the same way one would at Batter Park or Rockaways; basically a real waterfront community at mercy of the big river? How much new investment will property owners now want to make in both improving and reinforcing their buildings knowing that “this hurricane thing is now for real”? Will it affect prices? Is a condo in Court Square or even on Jackson Avenue now a safer living and investment than one closer to the ballyhooed waterfront?

On a lighter note, I’d like to give a shout out to parents and community leaders whose beloved Shady Park became shady no more. Can we find a solution to rebuild the park in a way that allows it to keep its name? A net with shrubbery draped over the playground ; a fast-growth tree replanting project; a roof? If at all possible, let’s show the city and especially the poor folks in NJ and SI that our small community can serve as a model or resiliency and creativity to help keep our real estate values up, Sandy or no Sandy.

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