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A Neighborhood Built From Scratch

The New York Times // Aug 30, 2012

To most Manhattanites, Long Island City brings to mind a waterfront with soaring glass towers, reclaimed gantries and a neon-infused Pepsi sign. But farther inland, in another section surrounding a neo-Classical-style courthouse, a residential neighborhood is being created.

A 2001 rezoning of Long Island City planted the seeds for a residential transformation of the nearly 30-block Court Square area, which had been primarily low-lying warehouses and auto repair shops, punctuated by a few commercial towers, including the 50-story Citigroup tower, and a smattering of homes.

Despite the global real estate crisis of 2008, a handful of residential condominium developments got built in recent years, including Arris Lofts, Vere, 44-27 Purves Street and the Industry. New businesses are also appearing, like Burger Garage and Dutch Kills bar, which joined old staples like Sage General Store and Brooks 1890 restaurant.

But there is more to come. About a dozen residential developments that could add as many as 4,700 apartments, most of them rentals, are planned in the next few years. To capitalize on these developments, NestSeekers International is opening a branch to serve the emerging neighborhood.

Court Square “will be a work in progress over the next few years, but by the time it’s all said and done, we could have almost the same number of units as the waterfront,” said Adrian Lupu, a senior vice president of NestSeekers, adding that the new buildings could double Long Island City’s population.

One of the largest projects, the highly visible Linc LIC at 43-10 Crescent Street, has 709 units that will start renting next spring. Built by the Rockrose Development Corporation, Linc LIC will add badly needed amenities to the neighborhood, including a large grocery store and drugstore, said Justin Elghanayan, the president of Rockrose.

“This neighborhood’s changing, and it’s about to change a lot more,” said Mr. Elghanayan, who attributes the area’s growth to the office workers in the large commercial towers and the artists attracted by the Museum of Modern Art branch called MoMA PS 1 and the Sculpture Center on Purves Street. “A lot of these warehouses around here are filled with artists,” he said.

Rockrose is so involved in the area’s growth that, in less than a year, it plans to break ground on one or two more towers nearby at 43-25 Hunter Street for a total of 1,000 rental units. Rockrose will also restore a picturesque auto-body shop a block away to become the new home of M. Wells, a quirky Long Island City diner that sent foodies into a funk last summer when it closed after losing its lease in a building a few blocks to the west. Mr. Elghanayan said he sees the diner becoming a “sort of retail and cultural hub” for the area.

“The auto-body shop has skylights and wooden ceilings, and it will be pretty cool,” he said. “Our philosophy has been not to knock everything down and do something new, but to see what we can preserve, because Long Island City has a certain character here — this industrial, gritty past that creates a certain charm.”

Rockrose may be taking the lead, but other developers have discovered the Court Square area. Ekstein Development, led by the president Erik Ekstein, plans to develop two midsize rental buildings: one with 98 units at 26-14 Jackson Avenue, and another with 59 units at 46-09 11th Street. Both should be completed and leasing by early 2014.

“We love the area, and we know it very well,” said Mr. Ekstein, whose company has developed and owned other properties in Long Island City. He said the two rental buildings will use their amenities to help create the sense of community, and he anticipates attracting young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s to the neighborhood. “It will be mostly people just starting out — this may be their first time living alone,” he said.

While rents have been rising in the Court Square area, Mr. Elghanayan said he still anticipates that monthly rents in Rockrose’s buildings will be about 10 percent less than on the waterfront, where apartments tend to be larger. Studios will be about $1,900; one-bedrooms about $2,500 to $2,600; and two-bedrooms about $3,300, he said.

A recognizable gateway to the Court Square area is the 5Pointz arts center, a collection of moldering warehouses that are now covered in vibrant graffiti by various artists and that is passed by the elevated No. 7 subway train as it trundles into the station. For some, the graffiti is a totem of the area’s artistic style, but the colorful knot of aerosol art will most likely fall casualty to two buildings with about 1,300 rental units that are planned by the lot’s owner. The project is currently going through the community approval process.

Other developments planned for the Court Square area include two rental towers being developed by the Long Island company Heatherwood Communities; construction of several midsize high-rises along Purves Street by different developers; conversion of a former electric plant into as many as 400 units; and construction of a handful of other small to midsize residential buildings.

An important part of Court Square’s appeal to residents is the No. 7 station, which is three stops from Midtown Manhattan, as well as another subway station where the E and M trains are just one stop from Midtown. (There is also a station for the G line, for access to Brooklyn.)

While the waterfront area has only the No. 7 train, which goes into Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street, the different Court Square trains serve a wider swath of the Midtown population, said Doron Zwickel, an executive vice president and Long Island City expert with the marketing firm CORE.

Mr. Zwickel, who helped sell out Arris Lofts in Court Square about three years ago, said that since April, 60 percent of the 45 condo units have sold at a new development called One Murray Park, on the fringes of Court Square. Prices are averaging about $750 a square foot, he said. “The prices I’m getting there have surpassed the numbers I was getting here in 2006 and 2007, at the height of the real estate market,” he said.

Original Article: The New York Times