Twelve years ago, if someone dropped the name Long Island City into a conversation, people might have mistaken it for some tucked-away town in Nassau County.
Today, that name is synonymous with new development, shiny towers, and a promising future.
One development firm had a big part in that: Tom and Fred Elghanayan’s TF Cornerstone completed a more-than decade-long project building six residential towers along the waterfront of the Queens neighborhood last Spring.
In 2003, TF Cornerstone finalized its purchase of PepsiCo’s waterfront property, which at the time was a massive bottling facility that was 10 stories tall and covered most of the site.
That building was demolished to make way for the residential buildings, but the iconic PepsiCo sign was taken down, restored, and re-erected at the site, where it still stands.
Since then, the former industrial site has evolved into a $1.4 billion residential mini-neighborhood of Long Island City.
Recently, on a windy Thursday afternoon, Fred Elghanayan’s son Max, a sculptor who is also vice president of development at the firm, gave a tour of the 22-acre site. For Max, the project has been a part of his life since he was a senior in high school.
The summer after graduating, he worked in leasing at the site, showing apartments in the first building completed in 2006, 4720 Center Boulevard.
“We’re very isolated from most of Long Island City, I view us a little bit different on the waterfront,” said Max. “We invented our own character.”
He has watched the waterfront take shape from the Manhattan home he grew up in since he was a teenager, and to see it finally completed was gratifying, he said.
Now, he runs the design development side of things, managing the engineers, architects, budget, major mechanical systems and all of the designs that go into building new properties.
“I help figure out what they look like, and how to make the best use of the space,” he said.
Though born into a real estate dynasty — his father is a co-founder and president at the firm, while his uncle Tom is co-founder and chairman — Max wasn’t pressured into joining the family business.
“Growing up, my dad and uncles were careful not to talk about business when it was not business hours,” he said. “My only real experience with the real estate business has been since working in it.”
Passionate about design, Max started building furniture as a kid, and while at Connecticut College, he studied architecture and fine art. After graduating, he began working in construction at the waterfront site in Long Island City as an assistant superintendent.
In that role, Max worked six days a week, from the early morning till late at night, learning the ins and outs of construction.
“Having been out here, even though I specifically stationed myself at certain jobs, I got to see all of them,” he said of the buildings. “I got a very compressed education — a lot in a short period of time. I was lucky, it was timing, normally you’d only see one [building] in a short period of time.
“It’s a great setup for working in design and development,” said Max about the job. “There’s a lot of problem solving, common sense, and a lot of grey areas. Anyone can build an expensive building, or an inexpensive building, but it’s that area in between that takes a lot of brain power and decision making.”
The six buildings that make up the waterfront site are 4545 Center Boulevard, 4610 Center Boulevard, 4615 Center Boulevard, 4720 Center Boulevard, 4540 Center Boulevard, and 4630 Boulevard, the only condo building.
All together, the buildings house 2,800 rental units and 184 condos.
“One of the unique advantages of doing a master plan like this is arranging the towers from scratch so that they all look through each other as much as possible,” said Max.
The team did a lot of research to make sure they got the best possible views of the Manhattan skyline for the units.
Though the last building of the project, 4610 Center Boulevard, was completed last summer, the final pieces of the entire project have just recently come together, including the retail components of the site.
An Italian restaurant, Maiella, is set to open soon on the ground floor of 4610 Center Boulevard in an 8,000 s/f space, while a kickboxing studio will open soon across the street on the ground floor retail level of 4545 Center Boulevard.
And perhaps the last piece of the puzzle for the parks area, a large dog run is set to be completed by mid-summer.
“Retail was a very important thing to us when we started the planning here,” said Max, “We knew just having residential towers wouldn’t be enough to engage the sidewalk. If you’re not at Center Boulevard, the closest restaurants and retail are on Vernon, and they’re excellent, but they’re a solid walk.”
One big part of the waterfront site taking shape over the years has been the development of the parks surrounding the buildings, and often, integrated into them.
The eight acres of park land, known as Gantry Plaza State Park, belong to New York State, but were built by TF Cornerstone. A continuous public promenade runs along the length of the site, and includes rolling hills, open lawns, and playgrounds.
“The combination of residential housing, public parks and open space, infrastructure, retail and services has transformed this former industrial site into a vibrant neighborhood for thousands of new residents, businesses, and daily visitors,” said K. Thomas Elghanayan.
“It’s incredible to look across the East River and see how the area has become all that we envisioned and more,” said K. Thomas Elghanayan.
“While we’re extremely proud of the buildings that we’ve developed all throughout New York City, I think what we’ve enjoyed the most has been the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the neighborhoods that we’ve helped create, and to grow with these communities over the years. We’re looking forward to continuing this tradition as we start TF Cornerstone’s next chapter, embarking on three of our largest projects to date,” said Frederick Elghanayan.
Max too is now focused on these new projects in Midtown West and Downtown Brooklyn, two massive residential buildings that, combined, will have more than 1,700 units.
Both buildings, 606 West 57th Street and 33 Bond Street, are in the foundation phase.
“They’re big jobs, I’ve been learning a lot there,” said Max.
Featured photo by Holly Dutton