By Bill Parry
Long Island City’s transformation from a gritty industrial neighborhood to a mixed-use community with sleek waterfront luxury residential high-rises is well into its second decade.
On June 2, the city put out a call for developers to finish building Hunters Point South Park, which will contain 5,000 new apartments when completed. At the northern end of Center Boulevard, TF Cornerstone finished its sixth and final residential towers with 2,100 in 2014.
Now the focus of the boom has shifted inland to Queens Plaza and more specifically the Court Square section, where nearly every block has construction crews at work on new towers. More than 12,000 new apartments will come on line in Court Square within the next five years.
Rockrose Development Corp. alone is constructing 2,500 units as part of its $1 billion Court Square project. The 31-story 47-05 Center Boulevard opened in 2007 and in 2013 Rockrose completed and fully leased the 709-unit Linc LIC, at 43-10 Crescent St. And just last month, it topped off The Hayden, an amenities-packed, 50-story, 974-unit residential tower at 43-25 Hunter St., which will be completed next year.
“I used to walk around Court Square and I would see all of these buildings in my mind and now they’re actually going up,” Rockrose President Justin Eghanayan said. “It’s very exciting to see. More apartments will be constructed in Court Square in the next five years than in Downtown Brooklyn, Hudson Yards or any other emerging neighborhood in NYC.”
Elghanayan is particularly looking forward to the Eagle Loft project with “superstructure starting soon” at 43-22 Queens St. at the edge of the Sunnyside Yards. The former six-story Eagle Electric warehouse, built in 1920, will serve as the base of a 54-story tower that will have 790 rental units.
“We’re preserving about 80 percent of the existing warehouse mixing the old and the new,” Elghanayan said. “We’re keeping part of the old neighborhood as we build the new neighborhood. We’re keeping the old water tower and we’ll turn the castle turret into a lounge amenities space for the tenants. That’s going to be sweet. It’s going to have loft apartments with 30-foot ceilings. It’s going to be very cool.”
In another homage to the old neighborhood, Rockrose owns plenty of small industrial buildings along Jackson Avenue between 43rd Avenue and 44th Drive.
“We’re keeping those as retail,” Elghanayan said. “The area offers tremendous opportunities for retailers, especially restaurateurs, in a community that is currently underserved.”
Toby’s Estate Coffee has recently signed a deal for 26-25 Jackson Ave. Levante will open a pizza restaurant and lounge with outdoor space at 26-21 Jackson Ave. and a Japanese restaurant will open at 27-24 Jackson Ave.
“This area will be super hot for retail within the next decade because of all the subway options that come through here,” Elghanayan said. “But I want really interesting groups, not big chains. I’d like to be curatorial about the retail. My dream is having a bookstore — that would be awesome. That could be the real heart of the neighborhood.”
Rockrose isn’t the only developer building towers in Court Square.
United Construction filed plans to build a 984-foot-tall City View Tower, which would be more than 300 feet taller than Citigroup’s One Court Square.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) has been watching the rise of the towers on frequent trips to City Hall aboard the No. 7 subway line. He can see them looking west on Skillman Avenue near his home in Sunnyside Gardens.
“I’m bullish on LIC. It’s become one of the hottest neighborhood in the city,” Van Bramer said. “It’s hot and vibrant. Good things are happening in our parks, our cultural institutions. LIC is booming and it’s successful. Does it create challenges? Well, obviously yes. Infrastructure is something we can’t delay, we need more schools and libraries and parks and we’re doing some great work in those areas.”
He said Court Square is particularly attractive because it has additional subway lines as opposed to Hunters Point, which relies solely on the beleaguered No. 7 line.
“The development in Court Square has put a strain on affordable arts space and performance areas,” Van Bramer said. “LIC is, was and always will be attractive to people because it is a place where artists have thrived and will continue to thrive. Going forward, the city is committed to building more work-live space for artists.”
Another issue for Van Bramer is the displacement of small business in Court Square. Higher rents have forced many mom-and-pop operations to move from the neighborhood.
Last month, the restaurant Sage Roadhouse closed after 18 years in Court Square. Owner Leslie Nilsson said she was unable to renew her lease.
“Leslie is amazing, I love Leslie Nilsson, so I’m sad to see it go, but she will continue to live and work in LIC,” Van Bramer said. “Commercial rents continue to be a concern of mine. That’s why I support the Small Business Jobs Survival Act.”
That bill in the City Council would help protect small businesses and artists in good standing. Meanwhile, Nilsson will continue to operate her Bartleby & Sage catering operation.
“I wish them the best of luck. It was a longtime favorite of mine and it’s a shame they had to close up shop,” Court Square Civic Association President and Founder Amadeo Plaza said. “I looked into their catering business when I was planning my wedding.”
Plaza started the organization last year to assist small businesses, artists and residents who are feeling the effects of the building boom.
“There is some upside to the development because the neighborhood was devoid of life and it does bring serious amenities to the community,” he said. “There’s a lot of new buildings coming on line with a lot of new residents and people are concerned about the stress on the infrastructure and the rising commercial rents.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr