Kaufman, Silverstein and Bedrock Unveil $2B Mixed-Use Development in Astoria

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A five-block stretch of Astoria, Queens, filled with parking lots and one-story factory buildings, is being eyed for redevelopment into a 2.7-million-square-foot mixed-use project.

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Developers Kaufman Astoria Studios, Silverstein Properties and Bedrock Real Estate Partners unveiled their $2 billion plan this week to construct several buildings, some rising as high as 26-stories tall, along a “lifeless” portion of 35th Avenue from Northern Boulevard to 37th Street.

“It’s really the kind of investment that our neighborhood needs in this moment to jump-start the economy,” Kaufman vice president Tracy Capune said. “Today, it feels more important than ever.”

The project, dubbed Innovation QNS, will add 2,700 units of mixed-income housing, with 700 units set aside for affordable housing and seniors. Plans also call for 250,000 square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of retail, a 90,000-square-foot community facility, an 80,000-square-foot grammar school and a new movie theater, according to the developers. 

Innovation QNS
Innovation QNS. Rendering: ODA New York

The design allocates about 25 percent of the nearly 9-acre site to pedestrian-friendly public spaces that include farmer’s markets, an art-gallery garden, courtyards and a zen garden.

“We believe this is what makes a livable neighborhood,” Capune said.

Innovation QNS isn’t the only megadevelopment in the works for western Queens. In May, the city released its Sunnyside Yard Master Plan after nearly six years which calls to build 12,000 units of affordable housing and 60-acres of parks and public infrastructure on top of the sprawling Amtrak rail yard in the neighborhood, Curbed New York reported. 

And this week a group of developers announced it’s seeking a rezoning for the 28-acre Long Island City site formerly targeted by Amazon for its scuttled second headquarters, Crain’s New York reported. Those plans call for up to 12 million square feet of commercial development, with at least half set aside for office space, and 7-acres of public space, according to Crain’s.

For Innovation QNS, Capune said the team spent two years gathering ideas from local groups, including the Steinway Street Business Improvement District, and launched online surveys for residents to develop a plan that will address the area’s biggest needs.

“The havoc created by COVID-19 hit Queens harder than any community in the nation,” Tom Grech, the president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “As we look to rebound, the partnership behind Innovation QNS is well-positioned to contribute meaningfully to our recovery, as its partners have led historic revitalization initiatives before, including here in Astoria. Through the substantial private investment in Astoria it is proposing, this uniquely experienced team will benefit the residents of Queens County.”

However, not everybody was as enthusiastic as the Chamber of Commerce over the development. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the neighborhood, immediately announced his opposition to the plan on Thursday.

This proposal envisions luxury towers, some as tall as 26 stories, surrounded by two- to six-story buildings in a working-class neighborhood,” Van Bramer tweeted. “We do not want or need Hudson Yards East in Astoria!”

The developers started showing the plans to elected officials and residents this week and will tweak the proposal based on their feedback.

“We’ll be looking for the public feedback on the project,” Capune said. “We’re very early in the process.” 

The development would not displace any residents from their homes and Capune said most of the businesses along the stretch either plan to relocate nearby or in the project itself.

If all goes according to plan, the developers will submit a preliminary action statement with the city in July and the New York City Council will vote on the proposal next year. The team expects construction to last 10 years.

Developers tapped architect Eran Chen’s ODA New York, the team behind 10 Jay Street and 420 Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, to design the project. Chen said he chose to break-up the new buildings with open spaces to create “pockets of community gathering that will eventually really stimulate the life of a community, as opposed to just retail storefronts.”

“We were really inspired by the already existing wealth of cultural institutions in this neighborhood [and its] diversity of people,” Chen said. “We’ve kind of tailored very carefully with those components.”

Innovation QNS
The planned zen garden in Innovation QNS. Rendering: ODA New York

Chen said the project calls for a digital art facility, a makerspace for local artists with space to display their work outside, a playground, a zen garden and a child care center. 

All told, the developers expect Innovation QNS to create more than 5,400 jobs — 3,700 during construction — and will make portions of the office space available to startups, artists and nonprofits at lower rents.

“This is exactly the kind of bold thinking and neighborhood-focused investment that is needed to jumpstart Astoria’s recovery,” Bedrock co-founder Chuck Berman said in a statement.

Kaufman Astoria has been a mainstay in the neighborhood for decades, operating its film and TV production studio at 34-12 36th Street and promoting the Kaufman Arts District. The studio is putting the finishing touches on a new four-story building featuring new sound stages and office space.