Seven years ago, Halstead broker Robert Whalen moved from Manhattan to Long Island City, Queens.
There was little retail there — not even a supermarket — and most people had never heard of LIC, or thought it was a schlep to get to.
Nowadays, everyone knows about Long Island City, even if they haven’t set foot in the neighborhood, and Whalen is the director of Halstead’s LIC office on Vernon Boulevard.
“Some people come here, not from New York, and they know of Manhattan, but Queens has historically been this mystery place,” said Whalen. “Well it’s not a mystery anymore. The success of Long Island City has opened eyes and minds.”
The success has come after an avalanche of new development that has taken place in the neighborhood along the East River at the northwestern tip of Queens.
In 2014, TF Cornerstone completed its final residential tower along the waterfront, six in total, that all together house 2,800 residential units.
They lend a shiny, glassy background to the iconic Pepsi-Cola sign along the water that has stayed, though the PepsiCo bottling facility is now long gone.
But it’s not just TF Cornerstone — Rockrose, Brause Realty, Tishman Speyer, and Silvercup Properties have all developed, or are in the process of developing residential buildings in LIC.
Just like waterfront neighborhoods in northern Brooklyn, LIC has drawn more and more residents and investors and has commanded prices on par, and at times higher, than Manhattan prices.
All the attention and new development in LIC has, in effect, turned the neighborhood into a gateway market to the rest of Queens.
“Long Island City has really been almost the flagship, or the poster community for the kind of growth and excitement happening in Queens,” said Whalen. “It’s kind of the epicenter.”
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in LIC in the fourth quarter of 2015 reached $3,027, followed by neighboring Astoria with $2,570, Woodside at $2,050, Flushing at $2,025, and Sunnyside with $1,877, according to Modern Spaces’ Q4 market report.
According to Streeteasy, the median price for a one bedroom in LIC is currently $839,000, and price per square foot is averaging $913, among current listings.
The progression of growth starting in LIC can be compared to the L train in Brooklyn – the 7 train runs east-west between Manhattan and Queens, and as prices rise in Long Island City, buyers and renters look further east on the 7 train for better deals — just as buyers and renters look further east on the L train as prices in Williamsburg have continued to rise.
The neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Woodside, and Ridgewood have all seen increased interest and activity on the residential and commercial side.
New York’s next “hot” technology industry neighborhoods will be on the waterfront, say real estate executives in a new survey by Marks Paneth, the accounting firm.
Asked what neighborhood will be the next to generate commercial leasing to technology businesses, executives were most likely to name Long Island City in Queens (18 percent).
And the recent proposal by Mayor de Blasio’s office of a Brooklyn-Queens trolley that would run from South Brooklyn to North Queens could be yet another valuable mode of transportation for the already well-supplied neighborhood.
“Here’s an idea so good we can all jump on board,ˮ said REBNY president John Banks.
“The new, state-of-the-art streetcar would address New York City’s growing need for more efficient transportation between neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, and is a vital component in keeping up with the housing and employment boom in the two boroughs. Investing in our city’s crumbling infrastructure is one of the most important things we can do to make sure New York continues to grow and thrive.
“A lot of people are working in Midtown now,” said Whalen, on the quick accessibility of LIC to Manhattan. “The money used to be in downtown, but a lot of banks, law, private equity have moved to Midtown. So having that quick access really drives home the point that it makes a lot sense.”
For investors, Queens has never looked so good.
In 2015, investment sales in Queens reached $4.38 billion — a 20 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report from Ariel Property Advisors.
The neighborhoods of Astoria, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, and Corona accounted for 32 percent of the borough’s dollar volume last year, pushed by a significant number of multifamily trades.
“The investor appetite is big in Queens and people are paying premium prices for good assets,” said Daniel Weschler, a vice president at Ariel Property Advisors who focuses on the Queens submarket.
“I think when investors are looking for prices to invest outside in the boroughs, the proximity to Manhattan is the most important, especially with transportation — LIC has eight subway lines at Queens Plaza.”
He added that pricing in LIC is even starting to rival and exceed Manhattan neighborhoods, and investors are following the transit further into Queens along the 7 line, with increasing investment in Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
And it’s not just the neighborhoods a few more stops down the 7 line — areas in far-out Queens, such as Flushing and Jamaica are experiencing a slew of new development.
“Public and private investments in both neighborhoods are really spawning development and with the attention they’re getting. Flushing is starting to rival LIC in terms of pricing, Jamaica because it’s such a transit hub and the proximity to the airport — there’s a lot of feet on the ground.”
In Flushing, a partnership between F & T Group, The Rockefeller Group and AECOM Capital is developing Flushing Commons, a five-acre mixed-use urban development on the site of a former parking lot.
And in Jamaica, developer BRP Companies is developing Crossing at Jamaica Station, a $300 million mixed-use project that will have 100,000 s/f of retail, and two residential towers, one with 14 stories and another with 26, totaling 582 apartments.
The Durst Organization’s project at Hallett’s Point is another examples of new development in BQueens that will supply the street car with thousands of riders every day.
This residential and retail development will result in seven buildings and over 2,400 rental residences, at least 20 percent of which will be affordable.
It will also include community use facilities, a site for a new K-8 public school, and an additional development lot for the New York City Housing Authority.
With so many eyes on Queens, the borough that many people have dismissed as too far away, or unfamiliar, now seems closer and more welcoming than ever.
“I think generally people still appreciate the value in Queens relative to Manhattan. “It’s being reinvigorated,” said Whalen of the new developments in the pipeline for LIC.
“It’s easy to overlook that there’s always been community here and it’s been vibrant – just smaller. It’s very exciting.ˮ