2016-04-13 / Front Page

Eleventh Long Island City Partnership Real Estate Breakfast Is Held

By Thomas Cogan

The 11th Long Island City Partnership real estate breakfast was held last Wednesday in the Con Edison Learning Center on Vernon Boulevard, drawing such a large crowd  that some of the spillover attendees had to be detoured to a nearby audio room, their alternative being to stand in the back of the Learning Center auditorium, as several did.  When he arrived slightly late, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer perhaps explained the reason for such interest when he took pride in representing “the hottest district in the city,” where “everyone” wants to live and work.  The hotness of Long Island City has been popularly proclaimed for most if not all of the decade these meetings have been held; thus, there was a bit of wondering, among the panelists speaking to the many spectators who'd come to hear them, how long it could last.

As always, the panelists were moderated by David Brause, president of Brause Realty.  First to be introduced was Shibber Khan, executive vice president of the Criterion Group, who was called, and gladly admitted being, a lifetime Queens resident.  He said it wasn’t long ago when Long Island City was ugly and hazardous, but owing in part to the buildings he’s putting up, it has grown attractive.  His apartments, he said, are aimed at young professionals, but he wants them to live there long enough to raise a child or two and not head for an affluent suburb with the first pregnancy.  Referring to amenities aimed at attracting and holding residents, he said he has installed “everything but a ski resort” for them.  He is also bringing in retailers of both necessities and luxuries, believing them to be what he called a community enhancement tool. 

The next panelist, Steve Klein, chief investment officer of Brickman Real Estate, said the local real estate market has changed completely in the past two years.  Because of that, an old industrial building he was going to develop industrially is now being gutted to provide 160,000 square feet of residential space.  Lots of amenities, of course, but his particular building features high ceilings and big columns.  He said he could think of five buildings in the Soho section of Manhattan that are quite nice but “don’t hold a candle” to this Long Island City building.  He has also developed a smaller residential building locally.  He remembered 1989, when the newly-opened Citibank Building on Jackson Avenue “stood out like a sore thumb” until the impulse to build all around it went into effect.

Paul Neuman, the next panelist and founder and president of Neuman’s Kitchen, has recently moved from 203 Chrystie St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  In his new baking facility at 35-02 48th Ave., he runs “almost 24 hours a day” while sending out loaded delivery trucks “four, five times a day.”  He said he was desperate for more room in the Manhattan bakery and would face a huge rent increase if he expanded.  Long Island City was better, though even his current place in a building whose landlord fixes vintage racing cars will soon be too small, so he needs a standalone, he said.

The last panelist, Ravi Patel of the Ravel Hotel and one other, has been in place since 2005.  He said he has 500-square-foot rooms for guests and amenities such as restaurants and a rooftop near to what he called his “next door neighbors,” the East River and the Queensboro Bridge, from which the Ravel will catch the eye of anyone traveling to Queens. 

The rooftop’s good for celebrations with spectacular views and below it, a 17,000-square-foot ballroom will soon be open.  He said he has more amenities than guest rooms but needs the former as a draw, being in a locality where retail businesses are few and “you’re coming here for a specific reason.”  He said there are 27 hotels in Long Island City and 34 more are expected to be built in the near future.

Councilman Van Bramer’s brief visit combined exhortations for Long Island City (his climactic remark was to call it not just hot but “smoking hot”) with the news that he has secured $225 million from the city for four new, local schools.  He is also working on a new zoning proposal.  “My district changes every day,” he said and implored the panelists and other businesspersons who could hear him to “continue to invest” in it, particularly in the most highly thermal part.

Brause asked if Long Island City development might soon reach a saturation point.  Are local office rents of concern to you, he asked Klein, who replied that they’re of concern to him everywhere.  Rent and landlord services are a far better deal locally than in, say, Manhattan’s Garment District, he added.   Neuman said he simply could not grow a business on Chrystie Street, where he was located for 19 years, the way he can in Long Island City.  Patel said he has “open air” amenities and lots of room that in Manhattan would “quadruple my costs.”  Regarding leveling of construction, Khan said it’s happening already and Long Island City hype has caused it; we stressed low prices and succeeded all too well.  But he also said “the two-and-a-half-minute train ride to Grand Central” will always be an ace in Long Island City’s hand.  Klein said there could be more visual attractiveness; he dwells in what he called a “dry urban area” lacking trees.  He looks to landscaping. Though there’s “no money in it,” it attracts people.  One person applauded that, and Klein asked, “Is my mother here?”  

Rather, it was Sheila Lewandowski of the Chocolate Factory Theater on 49th Avenue, who then asked what could be done for “public amenities.”  Klein had to confess he hadn’t given much thought to the matter, but Brause said the partnership had, realizing that artists tend  to scout (though likely unwillingly) for developers by settling in disregarded precincts (LIC then, Bushwick now) that later become desirable.  Neuman said he has run food events for artists and his commissary is available.   He said that someone who has good relations with Neuman’s Kitchen is its “best salesperson.”  

A man in the audience said his company works with others to develop energy efficiencies and he wondered if anyone on the panel were interested.  Khan asked in reply, what building owner isn’t?  But he cautioned that upfront costs for the new means of energy are large and by the time of amortization it’s time to buy new equipment, and government help isn’t there.  Klein said he has water retention programs in his developments.  Brause said he has wind power in his Purves Street residential building (it’s a local landmark) and pointed out that the millennial generation is all into energy efficiencies.

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