LIC project “The Yard” ready to launch, with life-size chessboard and wall of moss

TRD New York /
Feb.February 04, 2011 01:31 PM
Eric Benaim and “The Yard”

The developer of Long Island City’s PowerHouse Condominium is preparing to launch the second phase of the project, a new 83-unit condo called “The Yard.”

The 12-story building is located at 2-26 50th Avenue, in what was once the yard of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s power station. The station itself was converted to the PowerHouse condominium by developer Cheskel Schwimmer of Chess Builders. Now that it’s 70 percent sold, and with the remaining units rented out, Schwimmer said he is turning his attention to the Yard. A third residential building, tentatively named “The Lighthouse,” is also planned for the site, but Schwimmer said he has not yet secured a construction loan for it.

The Yard — one of the only new condos scheduled to hit the Long Island City market this year — was designed by the prolific architect Karl Fischer. Construction began a year ago and is slated for completion by August, Schwimmer said.

Apartments at the Yard will be available to the general public in late February or early March, said Eric Benaim, the CEO of Long Island City-based brokerage Modern Spaces, which is handling sales at both the PowerHouse and the Yard. Fifteen units at the Yard have been sold since friends and family sales began in December, Benaim said, allowing the building’s offering plan to be declared effective by the attorney general.

A rendering of a unit at the Yard

Units at the Yard are priced between $650 and $750 per square foot, Schwimmer said, though friends and family buyers have gotten specially discounted prices. The building is all one-bedroom apartments, Benaim said, plus 12 studios and 16 two-bedrooms. Units range in size from 434 square feet to 1,115 square feet, and most have outdoor space.

Securing a construction loan in the current climate isn’t easy, Schwimmer said. He and his partner at Chess Builders, Ziggy Brach, managed the feat after securing a bridge loan for the PowerHouse once the original $72 million construction loan matured, he explained. The bridge lender, a private equity player, was “very happy with the performance of the area and my partner was able to convince them to give us a loan for the construction of the Yard,” Schwimmer said. They are currently in negotiations to secure a loan for the Lighthouse with the same lender.

The Yard’s construction loan is roughly $25 million, he said.

Long Island City has recently developed a reputation as a haven for families, and the Yard’s tagline is “Live, Play,” Benaim said. To that end, the third-floor’s outdoor garden includes hopscotch, swings and a see-saw, as well as a seating area with hammocks and an outdoor fire pit.
“It’s going to be a fun area to hang out,” Benaim said.

On the roof deck, residents will find chaise lounge chairs for sunbathing, a stainless steel grill and a giant, life-sized chessboard.

Schwimmer said the chessboard is not related to his company’s name; the marketing team chose it because “it’s something different.”

In keeping with the building’s theme, the lobby décor — created by Manhattan-based Durakan Design — will be “earthy,” Benaim said, with stone floors and reclaimed wood elements. When residents enter, they’ll be greeted by a huge wall entirely covered in moss, he said.

A rendering of the lobby at the Yard

The Yard has smaller units and toned-down amenities in comparison to the PowerHouse, Schwimmer said. The PowerHouse, for example, features a gym and a spa called the Aqua Grotto, complete with a waterfall. The Yard also has a gym, but it’s smaller, Schwimmer said. That was done on purpose, he said, in an environment where residents want the lowest possible common charges.

“In this market today, I don’t think the amenities make it so much,” he said.

In the recession, it’s been a challenge to sell some units at the PowerHouse, especially studios over 700 square feet, he said. A year ago, he decided to rent the unsold units there, and they are now being offered for sale one-by-one as their leases come up.

When it comes to the Yard, however, he’s optimistic, in part because there are benefits to being one of the only new projects on the market.

Due to the dearth of other projects being built in the city right now, construction is significantly faster and cheaper than it was during the boom. “There’s better negotiating power on the construction side because there’s not so much going on,” he said, noting that the Yard is likely to be completed in under a year. “It’s so challenging to get a construction loan, so the contractors are much more eager to do business.”

Moreover, “there’s not so much inventory in the Long Island City market,” he said.

He said it’s not clear whether the Lighthouse will be a condo or a rental.

“We will be limited to the type of financing we will be able to secure,” he said. “Originally we thought the Yard was going to be a rental, but it ended up a condo. So I don’t [predict] the future anymore, until we get there.”

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