As Sunnyside Yards Divides LIC, Real Estate Pros Propose Closing the Gap
Terence Cullen April 22, 2015, 6 p.m.
Long Island City is divided, so to speak.
The bustling neighborhood in western Queens has seen a lot of development in the last decade, but portions of it remain split by the sprawling Sunnyside Yards—a holding area for Amtrak, Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New Jersey Transit trains. While talks are early and controversial on proposals to build affordable housing above the tracks, real estate professionals in LIC believe some sort of link between the commercial side and the mixed-use side could help the neighborhood—both in the short term and in the long run.
“There’s an opportunity to make those connections without platforming over the whole thing and building tens of millions of square feet,” said David Dishy, the president of development and acquisition for L+M Development Partners, while speaking on a panel at the LIC Partnership’s annual real estate breakfast today. “I think coming out of [discussions by the city] will be a short-term achievable set of opportunities on the board.”
L+M Development Partners owns 26-14 Jackson Avenue, a 98-unit rental building, between Purves Street and 44th Drive. The building sits just north of the railyard—across it is the 33th Street station for the 7 train. Mr. Dishy said his company has been proactive in looking at short-term ways to bridge the area, including building up portions of the neighborhood bordering Sunnyside Yards.
A lot of the activity in LIC has been focused on the north side of the rail yard where Court Square, home to Citibank and CUNY Law School, and Queens Plaza, home to JetBlue’s corporate offices, have emerged as commercial hubs in the last 10 years. The south side features a slew of factories-turned-office space, but also some of key amenities and institutions including LaGuardia Community College, an ice rink and an indoor paintball course.
Emmes Asset Management owns 47-16 Austell Place between Skillman Avenue and 27th Street—right along the southern portion of the rail yard. Panelist Seble Tareke Williams, the managing director of the New York City Interborough Fund at Emmes, said today that while it’s exciting that one of the city’s largest land parcels is being discussed, getting something rolling might be a long way off.
“It’s extremely complex,” Ms. Williams said. “I would love to say that something will happen in my lifetime. It’s exciting that there’s real conversations happening. [But] it takes time. It is a bit of a divide, but we think it provides some character. It’s literally a five-minute walk down Skillman from us to the 7 train. ”
Mayor Bill de Blasio in his State of the City address earlier this year proposed a Hudson Yards-like platform over the railyard to make it the foundation for a sprawling affordable housing complex. Former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who served under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, last November pitched the idea of building a platform, but with a convention center atop to replace the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the Far West Side.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation will announce this spring the winning bid to do a feasibility study of the area. The study will examine current and future rail layouts, whether a platform can be built over them and how infrastructure could be set up, according to the EDC. Examining the area is expected to last about a year.
An audience member raised the question to Mr. Dishy and Ms. Williams on whether their companies have considered or supported foot bridges spanning the yards from the south side to Court Square, which houses a subway station for the E, M, G and 7 lines. Ms. Williams said her firm hasn’t, and that its more focused on making 47-16 Austell Place an attractive building worth crossing the yards for.
“I think generally speaking, the connectivity is a big question,” she said. “We’ve been more micro-focused on making our building attractive enough that people want to be there. And they’re willing to just walk over from Court Square.”