The developers behind the $2 billion Innovation QNS proposal for transforming five blocks of “vacant or underutilized” property near Kaufman Astoria Studios into a “vibrant hub of activity and a new anchor of opportunity” in the neighborhood are gearing up for its first public hearing in the city’s public review process.
The project would bring more than 2,800 units of mixed-income housing and offices for startups and other businesses in the creative and tech sectors, supported by more than 5,400 on-site jobs, including 1,700 permanent jobs and more than 3,700 during construction.
Proponents of the massive project frame the investment as key to Astoria’s renaissance during the COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery.
“For many years we have been advocating for the jobs and the amenities that this project will bring for our neighborhood,” Astoria Tenants Association President Claudia Coger said. “We don’t have them now when they are desperately needed. It’s crucial that Innovation QNS continues to move forward, so we know that in the future they will be here for our children and families in Astoria.”
Coger joined several key Astoria business owners and restaurateurs, community-based nonprofits and clergy, all urging approval of the Innovation QNS project.
“Employment, education and poverty are significant issues facing many in our community, and it’s more important than ever that we find ways to address these,” Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement Executive Director Chris Hanway said. “Innovation QNS is not overlooking the residents of western Queens. It’s actively engaging us. It’s not looking to replace our neighbors. It’s truly inclusive, something that I feel stands out, and will bring opportunity and enrichment to our community and will offer access and community empowerment through educational and other programming for residents of all ages.”
The development is a collaboration between Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties, and BedRock Real Estate Partners. The project team devised Innovation QNS following three years of dialogue with local stakeholders, and the plan includes 700 permanently affordable apartments for individuals earning an average of $50,000 including dedicated affordable housing for seniors.
“There is a tremendous need for housing in New York City, and in Astoria, that’s especially true for our seniors,” HANAC Executive Director Stacy Bliagos said. “By providing not only dedicated senior housing, but also community health and wellness facilities and a wide range of shops and amenities in walking distance, Innovation QNS will allow our parents, grandparents and older neighbors to age in place with dignity.”
The project also has more than two acres of public open space that will be programmed with input from the community. There are also plans for a new state-of-the-art cinema and community arts and culture hub as well as a full-service grocery store at the site, which spans five blocks and is centered at the intersection of Steinway Street and 35th Avenue.
“What’s most exciting about the expansion of the Kaufman Arts District is the partnership with nonprofits that will make the arts more inclusive and equitable,” said Rev. Corwin S. Mason, pastor of the Community Church of Astoria. “We are creating opportunities for African American artists and curators to join the growing mosaic of arts and culture in Astoria and opening the door for young people of color in our community to learn about, experience and create.”
David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of the LGBT Network — which moved its headquarters into the Kaufman Astoria Studios in January — added his endorsement to the project.
“Innovation QNS is an initiative that is going to bring together opportunities for jobs and housing and entertainment and support for Astoria’s nonprofit organizations and cultural institutions, and the LGBT community is going to be a core component of that,” Kilmnick said.
The Department of City Planning will be holding a hearing in the coming weeks to determine what environmental components will be examined prior to certification of the project into the city’s ULURP review and approval process. Innovation QNS hopes to enter that public review process in late 2021 with final approval by the fall of 2022.
“When I look at the neighborhood, I see a need for more opportunity so our neighbors — from children to seniors — can stay here,” Cronin & Phelan’s Restaurant Owner Mike Peacock said. “We are all going to need to work together to keep our resources and our dollars local, while bringing in new residents, visitors and investment that can support our existing business.”