BY BENJAMIN FANG
At the Long Island City Partnership (LICP)’s annual Real Estate Breakfast last month, the departure of Amazon loomed large over the conference.
It was only about three months ago that the tech company pulled out of its planned HQ2 campus in Queens. But at the panel event at the Ravel Hotel, real estate leaders said Long Island City is still alive and kicking.
“Real estate has never been so strong,” said David Brause, president of Brause Realty Inc. and chair of the LIC Business Improvement District. “I’ve never seen LIC so exciting.”
One of the most impacted companies by Amazon’s exit is Savanna, a real estate investment fund manager that owns One Court Square. Amazon was originally scheduled to move into that building while building out its waterfront campus.
Andrew Kurd, the managing director of Savanna, which acquired One Court Square in 2014, said the fundamentals of Long Island City, including its accessibility to public transit, still haven’t changed.
“The silver lining, if there is one, is that the entire Amazon experience put Long Island City on the map,” he said. “When a tenant like Amazon commits to a building, it automatically adds credibility on a larger scale.”
Kurd said has had “great activity” since February, including 2 million square feet of touring activity.
“Our hope is that over the next couple of weeks, we will announce a couple of large transactions,” he said. “I only look at it from a positive standpoint. We’re active and full steam ahead.”
Another panelist at the event was John Cunningham, vice president and regional market director of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the largest owner and operator of life science space in the world.
Alexandria, which builds life science clusters, opened its first building in New York City a decade ago in Manhattan. But now that it’s approaching capacity, the company has already committed to building in Long Island City.
In addition to cost, another key factor to where they decide to build is proximity to major academic or medical centers, where much of the life sciences research takes place. Long Island City is just across the river from Cornell Tech, and has LaGuardia Community College to boast.
“We look at Long Island City as also part of the medical corridor,” Cunningham said. “We were late to the game, frankly.”
Another new addition to the neighborhood is Wirecutter, a product recommendation website that was acquired by the New York Times Company in 2016.
Christopher Mascari, director of business operations for Wirecutter, said not only did the square footage price for their building fit their budget, but the location was great too. He also touted the live-work-play culture of Long Island City.
“The office can be part of their lives,” he said. “The neighborhood culture is really cool.”
Melanie Lemieux, co-founder and owner of The Baroness Bar, The Huntress Bar and NY Stage of Mind, moved into the neighborhood eight years ago and “fell in love with the area.” She started her first bar, The Baroness, because she felt the neighborhood needed a watering hole.
As the neighborhood grew, and residents began to populate the developments, Lemieux started more businesses to accommodate the growth.
One of the challenges that still face Long Island City, Lemieux said, is that it’s still lacking retail options.
“It’s still very hard to buy anything,” she said.
Another challenge panelists noted is that many tenants just don’t want to leave Manhattan, despite the cheaper price of real estate and amenities offered just across the river.
“It really is just about informing people about the benefits of Long Island City,” Mascari said, “and what the street culture is like.”