Heeding the siren call…of Elmhurst

Developers try to lure Manhattanites to a quiet Queens neighborhood

Oct.October 10, 2007 01:47 PM

Elmhurst is a relatively quiet neighborhood in northwest Queens not known for much new residential development. But that reputation may change as the area is expected to add more than 120 condo and rental units to its inventory, including two controversial projects by developer James Pi that are back on track after having been stalled since February 2005.

Two new high-end condominium projects — the C Condo at 79-35 Calamus Avenue and the Miramar Building at 81-14 Queens Boulevard — and two large rental projects by Pi have been built or are in the process of being built.

The developments are being marketed to a demographic that’s largely new to Elmhurst: professionals who work in Manhattan and who have been priced out of Queens neighborhoods closer to the city. C Condo, developed by the Criterion Group, is a four-story, 14-unit luxury building. It has sold more than half of its units since sales began in March.

“It’s much harder to bring buyers from the city to Elmhurst than to Long Island City or Astoria, or parts of Brooklyn,” said Adriano Hultmann, a senior associate broker at the Corcoran Group, who is marketing C Condo.

However, with significantly lower prices per square foot, Elmhurst seeks to compete. Hultmann said, “The average price per square foot of a unit in our project is $425. The same apartment in Astoria would be at least $600, in Long Island City maybe over $725, and in certain parts of Brooklyn over $800.”

The remaining units at C Condo are priced from $280,000 for a 620-square-foot one-bedroom to $525,000 for a 1,200-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bath apartment. Parking spaces are selling for around $20,000.

In the past, developers have had little incentive to start new condo and rental projects in Elmhurst because its large immigrant population has at least in part seen the neighborhood as a pass-through zone rather than a destination. They often establish themselves with a starter home, then upgrade to a larger residence or move out of the neighborhood within a few years, said Jeff Silverbush, owner of Century 21 Best Realty, the neighborhood’s largest brokerage. Also, resales of the neighborhood’s old single-family detached and small multifamily buildings provided sufficient housing supply so as to not warrant new projects by developers, brokers said.

According to Century 21 Best Realty, homes turn over in Elmhurst an average of just over three years, compared to a city average of four years and a national average of seven.

Elmhurst homes also turn over faster than those in neighboring communities. County assessor data show 248 home sales in Elmhurst from 2005 to 2006, compared to 117 in nearby Rego Park and 183 in Maspeth Park, two areas that border Elmhurst.

Expected to bring noticeable change to the area, Pi Capital Partners is developing two mixed-use luxury rental apartment buildings at Elmhurst’s busiest intersection, Queens Boulevard and Broadway. One of these, a four-story, 82-unit building at 86-03 Broadway, is slated to break ground by the end of the year. The ground floor will feature some retail — offers have already arrived from Staples and furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan — and a community facility for either a nonprofit or a day-care center.

Jerry Pi, an operating partner of Pi Capital and son of developer James, was born and raised in Queens. He said the company views Elmhurst as the next economic boom center in Queens.

The area boasts the country’s most profitable mall per square foot, Queens Center, as well as smaller commercial strips along Queens Boulevard and Broadway with medical offices, restaurants and furniture and clothing stores.

“The areas [in Queens] that are going to see development in the next few years are Jackson Heights, Astoria and Elmhurst, and Elmhurst has a huge advantage because of the mall and the large volume of consumer spending,” Pi said.

In comparison, he argues that Long Island City, Sunnyside and Flushing are overpriced and only offer good opportunities for developers “who really know what they’re doing.”

In early 2005, when Pi Capital first unveiled its plans, the rental buildings were to be 16 and 17 stories and would have drastically changed the shape of Elmhurst’s skyline. Community Board 4 residents, angered by the proposal, came out in full force at a city land use committee meeting in February 2005, claiming that beyond being an eyesore, such an addition of residential units would be a burden on the neighborhood’s infrastructure, including the police, fire department and schools. New plans for 86-03 Broadway, described in an interview with Jerry Pi, cut the building down by 12 stories to only four stories, and the building does not include condominiums as before.

Because the project is located above a subway line, it requires special approval by the MTA. Jerry Pi said this would be worked out within the next few months.

Pi Capital Partners’ other rental and commercial project is planned a few blocks away at 86-15 Queens Boulevard and is expected to break ground in 2009. The developer is waiting for a Wendy’s lease on the site to expire. Pi said that while the specifics of the second building have not yet been decided, the building should be completely designed and approved by the time the fast-food restaurant leaves.

Still, it remains to be seen how strong demand will be for new condos and rentals in Elmhurst.

The Miramar Building, designed by architect Peter Casini and located down the street from Pi’s project, won an award for best new mixed-use construction in Queens last year from the borough’s Chamber of Commerce, but has only sold half of its 30 units since sales began in July 2006. Prices in the complex range from $279,000 for a studio to $900,000 for the two-bedroom penthouse. Sales were also slow at the beginning of this year at the nearby 42-unit Boulevard Condominium at 81-15 Queens Boulevard, brokers said.

Hultmann remains upbeat about Elmhurst as several of the remaining units at C Condo are going into contract. He predicts the area will continue to blossom as more and more Manhattan residents, tired of paying large sums for smaller spaces, will discover areas in Queens like Elmhurst.

“There is this fear of the unknown,” he said of Manhattanites who wait for others to become pioneers in outlying neighborhoods, a fear that may be eased by the relative bargain of living in Elmhurst.


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