‘The whole world knows about LIC now’: Long Island City carries on strongly after Amazon deal flop

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Courtesy of Governor’s office

Four months after Amazon abruptly cancelled its plans to build an HQ2 campus in Long Island City and create more than 25,000 jobs and $27 billion in tax revenue, the area has continued with the unprecedented building boom that made it the fastest growing neighborhood in the nation.

More than 350 new development projects are underway or in the pipeline, according to the Long Island City Partnership.

The luxury high-rises seem to be rising on nearly every block in the Queens Plaza and Court Square sections. It is where construction is well underway of the Skyline Tower, which promises to be the tallest building in Queens at 67 stories with a sellout price for all of its 802 condominiums to be more than $1 billion.

Eric Benaim, the founder and CEO of Modern Spaces, the Long Island City-based brokerage marketing the tower, fought valiantly for Amazon to reverse course and proceed with its plan to build its complex around the Anable Basin on 44th Drive. He has turned the page.

“The truth is, this was the fastest growing neighborhood way before Amazon,” Benaim said. “The market was great prior to Amazon and it will continue to be great without them. Amazon put Long Island City on the map. Everybody in the whole world knows about LIC now.”

Greg Smith of JRT Realty Group, Inc., which has been dealing in Long Island City commercial real estate for the last 15 years, concurred with Benaim.

“In spite of the Amazon debacle, LIC came out stronger,” Smith said. “It’s now on the map in a much more significant way and now many more companies in tech, media and the innovative economy are making inquiries about spaces in LIC. Cool spaces in the live-work community which is exactly what LIC provides in close proximity to Manhattan.”

Smith excoriated the political leadership of western Queens after Amazon blamed a “lack of collaborative relationships with state and local officials” when the project was scuttled.

“Who in their right mind would give up 25,000 jobs? It was a gamble and they lost,” Smith said. “Amazon wanted to come to Queens and now they’re securing space on Manhattan’s West Side. They’ll still be in New York but not in Queens because of the politicians.”

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is at the early stages of discussions with the companies that were to partner with Amazon on the HQ2 campus, Plaxall and TF Cornerstone, about what comes next at Anable Basin.

Plaxall, the family-owned company which has headquartered in LIC for more than 70 years, announced in 2017 that they hoped to rezone a 15-acre parcel of land and build a mixed-use district that would include 5,000 residential units and a waterfront esplanade.

TF Cornerstone, the builder of seven of the high-rise towers on Center Boulevard, had their own plans to build the Long Island City Innovation Center on city-owned land on the waterfront at the end of 44th Drive that would include 1,000 residential units in two towers with industrial and commercial space.

All three parties declined to comment on what happens next at Anable Basin, but Brent O’Leary, the president of the Hunters Point Civics Association, is seeking answers.

“The Hunters Point Civic Association has put in a formal request with the EDC for the developers to present their plans to the neighborhood,” O’Leary said. “They are all talking together and we have advocated for one unified proposal that can be presented to the community so we can respond.”

O’Leary believes the silence from the EDC, Plaxall and TF Cornerstone could be due to plans to develop the southern end of Hunters Point.

TF Cornerstone is proposing to rezone the area between 2nd Street and 5th Street where it bought the City Harvest property alongside Newtown Creek across from where the Hunters Point South development is rising.

“I’m pretty sure TF Cornerstone focus has shifted to that project.” O’Leary suggested.

One part of the plan would include decking over a three-acre portion on the Long Island Rail Road Hunters Point Avenue Station in order to create retail space and more than eight acres of public greenspace.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who many credit or blame for Amazon’s departure, is keeping a close eye on developments.

“There is a broader conversation taking place in Hunters Point and I’m keeping tabs on it to see which direction it’s heading but whatever happens next in Long Island City has to involve community input,” Gianaris said. “The neighborhood will continue to grow, nothing is going to stop that, but this growth must serve the community with better transit, more schools, an improved sewer system and more affordable housing to stem the tide of gentrification.”

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who grilled Amazon executives at a series of hearings, agreed that infrastructure improvements were key to making the community more livable and sustainable.

“We also need more space for local artists and cultural organizations, further investment in our public libraries, and all of the public amenities needed for any community to thrive,” Van Bramer said. “We have to make sure economic development is done the right way. New proposals for Anable Basin must go through ULURP and developers must focus more on meeting the needs of our community and its longtime residents rather than lining their pockets. Ii is imperative that we all work together to bring new opportunities to LIC, while also preserving the culture, character, and accessibility of our vibrant community.”