By Bill Parry
Long Island City prides itself on more than 30 arts and cultural institutions and venues such as Socrates Sculpture Park, SculptureCenter, the Noguchi Museum, and the Chocolate Factory theater.
Now the Joffrey Ballet School is expanding into LIC, signing a 10-year lease for 15,500 square feet of space in the Zipper Building, located at 47-16 Austell Place, in an industrial area between Skillman Avenue and 27th Place just south of LaGuardia Community College.
“We are building six studios, two of which will convert into a small performance space,” Joffrey Ballet School Operations Director Lee Merwin said. “We’ll be on the fourth floor of the Zipper Building and it will have some administrative offices as well.”
Vanbarton Group closed on the old Waldes Zipper Factory in February for $7.7 million and it is now overhauling the building with renovations that include a new facade and elevators as well as ground-floor retail.
“We have outgrown our space in the Village at 10th Street and 6th Avenue that we have been in since 1954,” Merwin said. “This will be additional space. The space will have open classes for adults and professionals, our pre-professional dance program, primarily the contemporary jazz program but also ballet trainees, as well as our children’s program and after-school Young Dancer program. We expect the build-out to finish in January 2016.”
Sheila Lewandowski, the co-founder and executive director of the Obie Award-winning Chocolate Factory theater, believes the addition further solidifies LIC’s status as a cultural center.
“It’s so exciting,” she said. “I’m thrilled to welcome more professional dance to Queens. We are the place to create!”
LIC Arts Open Executive Director Richard Mazda, the owner of the Secret Theatre and founder and artistic director of the Queens Players, also welcomed the 62-year-old institution to the community.
“The arrival of Joffrey Ballet in LIC is yet another indication of the deep and enduring roots and connections to the arts in Queens,” he said. “It’s a huge vote of confidence to be chosen over the other boroughs.”
Merwin explained several factors behind the choice.
“We couldn’t find space in Manhattan that a performance arts organization like ours could afford,” he said. “We needed a big space with wide column spacing, a building like the Zipper Building. When we realized we needed to look to the outer boroughs, it was important to be located off one of the first several stops on the subway so that we would have the most convenient commute possible to our current studios and dorms in Manhattan. Long Island City also has a burgeoning dance scene with new performance spaces and a lot of young dancers who are just starting out are moving into LIC.”
And finally Merwin mentioned the ongoing population boom in western Queens.
“There is a lot of residential building going on in LIC and a significant percentage of those moving into the area are young parents with children that fit the demographic for our children’s and after-school youth programs,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr