Construction and Development is
Active All across Queens
a good time to be a contractor in Queens.
New York's recent real estate boom has taken root in the
city's most expansive borough, which stretches for 100 sq.
mi. and holds 2.2 million residents, the city's two airports,
and the "three downtowns" of Flushing, Jamaica,
and Long Island City.
Housing vacancy in Queens is at a citywide low of 2 percent,
one of the lowest rates in the country. And developers are
discovering an enormous, underserved market for commercial
space in what local leaders say is one of the most ethnically
diverse counties in the nation.
With nearly all available land in the borough built out,
planners and developers say industrial areas in economic decline
have become prime sites for new development. Projects such
as the Shops at Atlas Park and Flushing Town Center are former
industrial parks where the developers are receiving tax breaks
through the state's brownfield cleanup program.
The city is also preparing to rezone large swaths of land
to usher in redevelopment, said Melinda Katz, a member of
the City Council who represents central Queens and was chair
of its Land Use Committee in the last term.
"There's been a move in Queens to look at many neighborhoods
to figure out how to update the zoning regulations, which
are old and out of date in many places," she said.
But the current push also involves developers looking at
Queens in a new light, such as the idea that led to the Shops
at Atlas Park, a retail center set to open this spring. New
York-based Atco Properties & Management is developing
the new $180 million open-air shopping center in the Glendale
"We looked with fresh eyes at the market," said
Damon Hemmerdinger, director of development at Atco. "We
realized that Queens has an extraordinarily high concentration
of affluent households and an extraordinarily low concentration
of retail to serve them."
Hemmerdinger said other developers have missed that analysis,
adding that "by affluent, we don't mean super rich."
Atco's research found that inside of a 3.5-mi. radius around
the Glendale site, 50,000 households had an annual income
topping $100,000 - a level three times higher than in a similar
ring around, for example, the high-end Westchester Mall in
White Plains, N.Y. Indeed, Atco found only one other area
in the country, Arlington, Va., to have a similar profile.
An Uncommon Development Mixture
Queens has always been "a tad unique," said Lester
Petracca, president of Triangle Equities, a developer based
in the borough's College Point district. "Queens is a
marriage between Brooklyn and Long Island. At times it's purely
urban, other times it's suburban."
Developers in Queens have to evaluate every opportunity using
different criteria because sites can involve horizontal or
vertical elements or both.
One prime development sector is Arverne, a neighborhood in
the Far Rockaway district dominated by abandoned beach bungalows
and empty lots that represents perhaps the last large stretch
of undeveloped land in the borough. The city, which owns the
land, is approving developers to build out the area as a suburban-style
housing development with two- and three-family units, said
Thomas Campagna, consulting engineer for the office of the
Queens Borough president.
Beachwood Benjamin of Long Island is currently constructing
a second phase of Arverne by the Sea, a 117-acre master-planned
development that will put 2,500 new units on the market.
The city is looking at proposals now for Arverne East, which
would add another 1,500 units. Triangle is also evaluating
a request for proposals from the city for a retail center
in Arverne East.
Other areas of the borough, such as downtown Flushing and
Long Island City, are undergoing redevelopment efforts with
a distinctly urban flavor.
"Outside Manhattan, downtown Flushing has the most thriving
street life in New York City," said Jim Jarosik, senior
vice president at Muss Development of Forest Hills, N.Y. "There's
a sense of community there."
A 1998 rezoning of Flushing sparked Muss to develop a 14-acre
site it owns into a $600 million, 3.2 million-sq.-ft. shopping
mall and residential complex called Flushing Town Center.
When completed in 2007, it will feature three levels of retail
under six residential towers housing about 1,000 apartments
"This project is more akin to a Manhattan development,"
Jarosik said. "It'll be a vertical power center."
Muss is performing site remediation and hopes to break ground
A few blocks away, the Rockefeller Group of New York and
TDC Development and Construction of Flushing are planning
Flushing Commons, a similar mixed-use project. The developers
purchased the 5.5-acre site from the city last year with plans
to build a $500 million complex featuring 500 units of housing,
300,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, a hotel, and a community
center - all surrounding a one-acre open town square.
"We're zoning for mixed use in downtown Flushing,"
said John Young, director of the city's Department of City
Planning office for Queens. "Queens is noted for its
diversity, but that's also one of its strengths. There are
development opportunities for different market niches."
Other large projects planned for Flushing include a replacement
for Shea Stadium, where the New York Mets play, set to begin
this year. Nearby, the city is promoting prospects to redevelop
the Willets Point area next to the baseball stadium, a district
that now has the notorious "Iron Triangle," a 42-acre
zone of car junkyards and other auto-related businesses.
From Old Industrial to Urban Living
By far the most dramatic conversion of an industrial area
to new residential and commercial uses is taking place in
Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood closest to Midtown
Manhattan. About $1 billion in new residential and commercial
construction is under way there, and several more projects
are in the planning stages.
"[Long Island City] has the largest transit infrastructure
in Queens, or of anywhere in the city," Young said.
In Long Island City's Court Square and Queens Plaza sections
- near transit hubs - companies like CitiGroup, MetLife, and
the United Nations Federal Credit Union are building Manhattan-style
office towers. Recent zoning changes have primed the area
for a density similar to Midtown Manhattan.
Among buildings planned for the area are two 1.5-million-sq.-ft.
towers on either side of Jackson Avenue. A joint venture of
New York-based Tishman Speyer and Med-Mac Properties is seeking
an anchor tenant to start the first project.
In addition, Silvercup Studios, a television and movie production
facility that has a longtime Long Island City presence, is
planning an expansion on a vacant six-acre waterfront lot
next to the Queensborough Bridge. The development would mix
new film studios with a retail center and residential towers,
creating what designers hope will be a "24-7 neighborhood."
"What's remarkable is the amount of residential interest
in Long Island City," Young added.
Also in that vein, Rockrose Development of New York is investing
more than $1 billion into Queens West, a Long Island City
site where it plans to build seven residential high rises,
a school, and a waterfront park. A former industrial site
along the East River controlled by the city, Queens West overall
entails four phases and plans for $2.3 billion in residential
and commercial development.
For the city, the greatest challenge in Queens is supporting
growth areas with infrastructure. In Long Island City, the
city will begin $47 million in improvements in 2007 focused
on streets, sidewalks, landscaping, and street lighting.
In Flushing, the city is making a similar infrastructure
effort and is requiring developers that are building along
the Flushing River, including Muss, to create a landscaped
The next big commercial growth area in Queens could be Jamaica,
thanks to the recent completion of a terminal for the AirTrain,
which links the subway system to John F. Kennedy International
Airport. The city is developing a rezoning of the area for
release later this spring, with early plans calling for increased
office space and a new hotel to support businesses that benefit
from access to the airport.
Jamaica's existing zoning has been in place since the 1960s,
and the area has historically struggled with economic vitality.
But it, too, may soon join the rest of a borough hitting its
"Queens is getting its due," said Jarosik, the
Muss senior vice president. "It has a lot of amenities,
and it's time is coming."