While Manhattan and Brooklyn have reputations for fostering thriving music scenes, one Queens native is hoping to create a home for musicians in the “World’s Borough.”
South Ozone Park native John Belitsky has big plans for a 20,000-square-foot former sushi factory in Long Island City. While he’s still in the very early stages of the design and planning process, Belitsky envisions a space where the music, art and food scenes intersect.
Though his background is in real estate development and design, Belitsky’s first passion was music and art.
“I grew up poor, so pursuing arts was just terrifying,” he said. “I took a business track and throughout my whole business career I was doing art shows.”
In 2014, he started DMNDR, a music website where photographers, videographers and journalists could post interviews, live sessions, show reviews and photographs of their favorite artists. Those interested in covering shows sign up through his website — PressPop — and are automatically connected to artists’ publicists for press passes.
Now, the DMNDR community is made up of 200 people who cover shows around the world. This space, located on 36th Street, will act as a home for the DMNDR community and the artists they’ve fostered relationships with, Belitsky said.
“This is now our home and it’s a real home where we can support artists in a real way, not in some nonprofit way which is really annoying to me,” he said. “The museumification of music and art is absolutely problematic to me on too many levels. These are not sculptures; these are living [people].”
Though a large component of the plan includes a music venue for touring musicians and mid-week jam sessions, Belitsky wants to use the sprawling space for a variety of programming.
In addition to a music venue, the space will include a studio where artists can come in and record live sessions similar to the ones filmed for DMNDR. The former sushi factory also boasts a large kitchen, where Belitsky said he will invite local chefs to experiment with new recipes.
He’s in talks with Donnie D’Alessio, the founder of Queens Comfort in Astoria, to curate a list of local chefs who can use the kitchen to test out food on concert attendees and even restaurateurs who may be interested in investing in new eateries.
“[I want to] make this the lab,” he said. “The food comes right in here, you test it right on the spot and people who are interested in trying stuff out get to do that and it’s all local, community-based restaurateurs.”
Belitsky, who spent time in Long Island City as a kid when his brother attended Aviation High School, said he chose the neighborhood not only for the property he found but because of its character.
“It’s different in a really wonderful way because if you look at how this neighborhood has changed compared to how Bushwick and Williamsburg have changed, there’s an integrity to how this has evolved, whereas those neighborhoods are very lipstick; they’re very Hollywood,” he said. “This neighborhood still has its foundation. Queens is just a real place.”
Belitsky is also working with a partner who has years of experience opening music venues throughout the city. They are both adamant about getting community support before beginning any work on the building.
“There’s a community here that needs to be respected and we have to figure out what’s good for them, too,” he said. “Because what we can put in here and what people want us to put in here might not be the same thing.”
Belitsky did not give a timeline for the opening of the venue, saying that he must go through the community board process first. But he is excited about welcoming artists into what he calls a “working farm.”
“I’m most excited about when I hear new sounds, when I hear someone actually find a new sound, a new voice,” he said. “That’s the thrill of it all. I would love for this to be where a new sound emerges because right now that’s the internet.”
Though the venue is not officially open, Belitsky has been inviting musicians to participate in invite-only “blind date jam sessions.” Last week, jazz musicians from as far away as Australia (pianist Nick Marks) and as close as Astoria (saxophonist Andrew Joseph) deconstructed the jazz standard “Spain” by composer Chick Corea for several hours and then spent hours talking about music.
“I want people to know that when you come here you’re going to experience something you’ll never get anywhere else,” he said.