Despite development boom, LIC still needs retail: panel

Speakers at LIC Partnership breakfast discuss resi, hotel and creative office trends

Long Island City Development
Rendering of Long Island City upon future development (credit: LIC Partnership)

Real estate investors, business leaders and local politicians appeared at the Long Island City Partnership’s annual real estate breakfast Wednesday morning to discuss market trends and opportunities in the burgeoning Queens neighborhood, but also spotlight areas — such as retail development — where there remains work to be done.

Amidst the networking and praise of the neighborhood’s prospects as a viable residential and business destination, the morning’s panel at Con Edison’s Learning Center On Vernon Boulevard touched on how far Long Island City[TRData] has come over the past few years, and how much further it has to go to realize its potential.

“We’ve owned real estate in Long Island City since 1980, and literally every year it just gets better,” said panel moderator David Brause, the head of Brause Realty.

Criterion Group executive vice president Shibber Khan echoed the sentiment, adding that his firm’s residential projects in the neighborhood are now focused on building larger units “that will actually accommodate families” and account for the “demographic change” in Long Island City As A Place where more people are looking to settle.

But there is still work to be done as far as building out and creating better amenities for the area, with Khan citing the “need for retail, and affordable retail” serving Long Island City’s growing populace. Such services, Khan said, are “frankly not fully built out yet” in much of the neighborhood.

Brickman Real Estate chief investment officer Steve Klein, whose firm is in involved in several warehouse-to-office conversions in Long Island City, explained his company’s strategy of repositioning properties to accommodate the creative and TAMI companies that comprise roughly a quarter of the area’s office tenants.

That includes creating open, amenitized office space featuring common areas, food stations, bicycle storage areas, fitness rooms and showers for those who want to clean up after having biked to work. “It’s important to provide a proper infrastructure for [office tenants],” Klein said, citing the Long Island City office market’s ability to provide “stuff that Manhattan doesn’t have.”

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Catering service Neuman’s Kitchen is among the tenants that have moved to Long Island City in search of larger, newer digs, and founder and president Paul Neuman discussed how his company looked to the area after outgrowing its former Lower East Side facility “because of the quality of the space we were able to find.”

Neuman cited factors like proximity to public transportation for employees and bridge and tunnel routes for the company’s distribution operations — as well as a “standalone building” that could not be offered by a sprawling office and light manufacturing complex like Industry City in Sunset Park, which Neuman’s Kitchen initially looked at during its search.

Now, Neuman said, the catering company is “paying about the same amount for two-to-three times the space” it had on the Lower East Side. “We can now grow a business that there was no way to grow in Manhattan,” he added.

Ravel Management Group CEO Ravi Patel echoed Khan’s earlier observation about “a lack of retail” offerings in Long Island City, citing how “foot traffic is not as great” in the area as a potential obstacle to fleshing out retail and commercial offerings.

But the hotelier – whose company opened the Ravel, one of the neighborhood’s first “luxury boutique” hotel offerings, in 2008 – pointed how Long Island City stands to benefit from an unprecedented wave of hotel development in Queens that promises to bring more than 5,000 additional rooms in the coming years.

Despite all the attention the neighborhood has received, doing business in Long Island City continues to prove a relatively affordable proposition. The Ravel is currently undergoing an ambitious expansion project that will up the property’s room count and increase its amenities, and Patel said to pursue a similar expansion in Manhattan “would probably quadruple my costs.”

As with its hotel sector, Long Island City is also bracing for a similar wave of residential projects that are either in planning or under construction — though Khan noted that this influx in supply “is a concern to almost anyone you speak to” as far as potential softening in rents and occupancy.

But, he added, the neighborhood bodes well compared to rival residential destinations like Williamsburg or Dumbo, particularly due to its transit offerings. “The reality is nothing beats the two-and-a-half minute train ride to Grand Central,” Khan said.