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LICP Holds Breakfast

This year’s annual real estate breakfast meeting of the Long Island City Partnership had a panel of four developers and a newspaper reporter. All who spoke were somewhat bullish on Long Island City’s development so far and its prospects for more. All again proclaimed that transportation facilities were marvelous, to the point where one of them countered that there were places within Long Island City where lack of great transportation was an advantage. The same speaker said that Long Island City residents were “in a better mood” than residents of Brooklyn. Strategies on when to build small residentially and when big were aired, as was the now standard belief that Cornell-Technion on Roosevelt Island will be momentous for Queens. The meeting was again moderated by David Brause of Brause Realty, who said that this eighth LICP real estate breakfast was the best attended ever, and while he didn’t say it was now so large it had outgrown the confines of the ground floor meeting room of the United Nations Federal Credit Union building on 44th Road, it probably has. He introduced the panel, comprising Eric Benaim of Modern Spaces, operating in Astoria, Long Island City and Williamsburg since 2008; Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, a Manhattan real estate appraisal company; Andrew Nimmer of The Local Hostels/Sunlite Capital Management; Michael Phillips of Jamestown LLP; and, returning after two years, Jason Sheftell, real estate editor of the New York Daily News. Brause regretted that there were no businesspersons on the panel, as breadmaker Amy Scherber and restaurateur Sara Obraitis were in 2012. At the 2011 breakfast, Sheftell praised Long Island City as a place with a great real estate future, saying that it held more promise than such Brooklyn areas as Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which had rapidly become too high-priced. This year, he still said much of Long Island City is “undiscovered”, citing Dutch Kills as more than a place for new hotels, being also a neighborhood with “hodge-podge” architecture that has its charm. It might have been Dutch Kills that moved him to say there are parts of Long Island City where the vaunted transportation hub is absent, and tout that as a benefit, since it frees the neighborhood from the deterministic influence transportation has on architecture. That could be one reason he sees a better sort of mood among Long Island City residents than among those of Brooklyn and Manhattan, where, he said, fights are more likely to break out on lines of customers waiting impatiently to get into some local night life emporium. (Brause, noting that Sheftell lives in the West Village of Manhattan, pleaded that someone ought to find him an apartment in Long Island City, he admires it so.) Both Nimmer and Benaim have started businesses in Long Island City. Nimmer said simply that he found it an excellent locality and Benaim seems to be glad he has come through after launching Modern Spaces in 2008, “in the middle of a financial panic”. Nimmer observed that there are now 22 operating hotels in the Long Island City area (others, particularly in Dutch Kills, are still under construction) with a lot of European clientele that are Manhattan-oriented (though he said many ask, “Where is Brooklyn?”, further indication of what he called Brooklyn’s worldwide “brand”) but Queens-priced as far as lodging is concerned. He was also impressed by local restaurateurs, some of whom reinvest in the very neighborhoods where they have lost leases. Benaim spoke of the current residential picture in Long Island City, noting that among builders, two- and three-bedroom apartments are a greater investment risk than one-bedroom and studio residences, which are plentiful at present. But, he said, there is a “big-place” demand out there that will eventually create a market for larger apartments. He also said that “chic and cool” places often precede square ones in developing neighborhoods (such as Hunters Point), but the latter (supermarkets, hardware stores, clothing shops) are slowly arriving as they must. Miller commented that developers should have a “build and they will come” outlook, since having buildings in place must precede retail—which indeed is what he called “the last stamp of approval” in a neighborhood. Jamestown LLP has purchased the loft building at 31-00 47th Avenue, a block below Van Dam Street, which offers abundant space for developing a broad line of retail stores. Jamestown has established a record of development in Manhattan, notably at Chelsea Market. Its representative at the breakfast, Phillips, spoke of his company’s Manhattan success, in which it spotted the Lower Midtown area and made incursions into the neighborhoods of Chelsea and Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen) and the meat-packing district. Now it is invested in Long Island City. Phillips recalled how he was first impressed when driving a truck at age 21 to deliver materials to Socrates Sculpture Park, getting the feeling that here was an area—even if a bit north of the one now under discussion—with a future. He admonished Long Island City not to worry about competing with Brooklyn and develop its own uniqueness. Since Miller Samuel, a family-owned company in Manhattan, deals in real estate appraisal, its representative, Miller, appraised Long Island City as currently delayed by tight credit, but added that so is everybody else. “Housing is local, credit national,” he said. Credit will not ease for years, or as long as interest rates are low, he predicted, but one can wait it out. He said that if Manhattan and Brooklyn are attracting “the top 10 percent” of investment wealth, that still leaves a vast amount of investment that could come to Queens. He answered an inquiry about Sandy, which had its impact on the Long Island City shoreline, by saying that flood plain sensitivity is strong and a flood insurance alternative to Uncle Sam is necessary. He saw a “modest uptick” in prices because of the October storm. When asked if Sandy might strike again, under a different name, he replied, “I get paid to worry” about such possibilities. The coming of Cornell-Technion to Roosevelt Island finds Queens trying to take advantage of its assumed benefits. Brause asked about that and Phillips fancied benefits coming to Queens not only by way of Roosevelt Island but also the Ace Hotel, at West 29th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. He said that there, in a raffish area south of Herald Square, technical wizards, many from the West Coast, are in residence and creating. Cornell-Technion is bound to be a site of further entrepreneurism for them. Spacious Queens being right in view, Phillips said, it and Long Island City could become as attractive as San Francisco is to Silicon Valley, where many of them used to work.

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