Beyond Long Island City’s waterfront

Developers push deeper into Queens enclave, touting short commutes and cheaper prices

Developers are pushing inland into Long Island City, and condominium seekers have followed.

The Developers Group in September formally opened the Echelon, a 54-unit, 12-story tower on Jackson Avenue, an event that drew several hundred attendees. The early buyers were offered 2 percent savings on closing costs, which helped put 21 of the units into contract, said David Behin, executive vice president at the Developers Group. Since then, about half of the units have sold, he said.

“There are people in Manhattan who have studios and one-bedrooms who want more space,” Behin said of the buyers, “people from Brooklyn, and a lot of people from Queens.”

Selling short commutes

Despite the gritty surroundings, brokers say lower prices and a still super-short commute to Manhattan explain the appeal of living away from the Long Island City waterfront. The Echelon is close to Court Square, near the G, E, V and No. 7 subway lines — all of which are one to three stops to Manhattan. The only subway stop for waterfront dwellers is the No. 7 line stop at Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.

Arris Lofts, a conversion of a 456,000-square-foot building at 27-28 Thomson Avenue, has 237 condos and commercial artists’ lofts. It’s near the same station as the Echelon.

Since the units went on sale in April, 16 of the 17 artist studios and 160 of the residential units, which range from about $500,000 for a studio to $3 million for a penthouse with 3,600 square feet of interior space and 4,200 square feet of outdoor space, have sold.

“Life isn’t about a view,” said broker Tim Crowley of the Sunshine Group, which is marketing the Arris Lofts. Plus, people living farther inland are closer to the entrances of the Queensboro Bridge. “A lot of life is about being able to get to work and commute in a timely fashion.”

The Queens Plaza, another condo project marketed by the Developers Group, at 41-26 27th Street, near the Queens Plaza subway station, has garnered interest, said Shana Bowes, project manager at the Developers Group.

About 27 of the 66 units at the Queens Plaza, which has one-bedrooms starting at $435,000 and two-bedrooms starting at $560,000, have sold. Still, the area around that project appears particularly rough around the edges — with multiple strip joints and a corner where former inmates leaving Rikers Island are dropped off nearby, according to a recent post on Curbed.com.

Avi Voda, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman, is working on another project slated for a spot near the Queens Plaza station. The project, awaiting approval from the attorney general, is expected to be 17 stories with 100 to 120 units that will sell for about $550 a square foot, Voda said.

“It’s just steps from the subway,” Voda said, “or you can walk or ride a bicycle across the [Queensboro] Bridge.”

Retail through residential

Any buyer enthusiasm over shorter commutes may also be tempered by inner Long Island City’s dearth of retail options. But brokers hope to fill those soon at the new condo construction.

At the Queens Plaza condo, a 2,000-square-foot retail space has been leased to an upscale coffee shop and another 900-square-foot space is available, according to the Developers Group.

Douglas Elliman broker Rick Rosa and his colleague Faith Hope Consolo are brokering a 17,000-square-foot retail space in Arris Lofts that is expected to be leased to a high-end grocery store for about $45 a square foot.

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“It will be more on the upscale end,” Rosa said of the grocery at Arris. “That’s the type of customer you’ll find in Long Island City.”

That customer will arrive in the neighborhood, brokers of new condos there say, but it will take time.

“There’s so much coming,” said Bowes of the Developers Group. “On the sixth floor of [the Queens Plaza], you see so many buildings with for-sale signs and so many scaffoldings. [Buyers] can see that there’s a lot coming.”

Many of the developments are focusing on extra amenities to make up for what’s missing in retail. Arris Lofts will have a pool, a roof deck and a 3,000-square-foot lounge with a screening room.

“If you took Arris Lofts and put it in Tribeca, it would be twice the price,” said Valerie Dominguez, a senior associate at the Corcoran Group who works in Manhattan and Long Island City. “It’s really inexpensive compared to Manhattan.”

Developments like the Echelon and 44-27 Purves, a 57-unit condominium, feature cold-storage rooms for groceries. At Purves, plans also call for a gym, a sauna, a poker room, a media room and a rooftop deck.

Closer to the waterfront, next to projects like the Gantry, the first new condo project in Long Island City, which hit the market almost a year ago, new entrants are also coming stacked with Manhattan-like amenities.

Douglas Elliman broker Rosa is working on J.P. Galaxy, a 12-unit development at 503 50th Avenue, which will feature a 5,000-square-foot roof deck complete with cabanas and outdoor showers. Prices haven’t been set yet, but condos in the area have been going for about $700 a square foot.

Marketing the unfamiliar

As fresh condo development pushes into Long Island City, brokers face the challenge of marketing an area unfamiliar to many buyers — and doing so with little actual condo to show.

Many newer developments won’t be occupied until 2007 or 2008, and a number of projects are plagued with delays because of a backlog in offering plans awaiting approval at the attorney general’s office.

Buyers who want to actually see units often have little choice. Dominguez at Corcoran says she gets numerous calls each day from Manhattanites curious about Long Island City.

“It’s really busy whether I have an exclusive or not,” Dominguez said. “I have a constant stream of calls and not a lot to show.”

And Long Island City still has from two to eight years to go before it really blooms with retailers, a reality that’s enough to keep some on the sidelines, for now.

Gregg Winter, of W Financial Mortgage and Winter & Company Commercial Real Estate Finance, says he prefers supporting projects in more established neighborhoods such as Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill.

“Long Island City has a fabulously long way to go in terms of morphing from industrial-office into a residential neighborhood,” Winter said. “When or if the market sputters and sales slow, better neighborhoods or locations always tend to survive better than fringy, pioneering locations.”

The inward creep by developers, however, could mark a residential point of no return. “The word condo,” Rosa said, “has not existed in Long Island City for a long time.”