Do you look back now and wish you had bought into Williamsburg or Dumbo 10 or 15 years ago? (I know I do.) Today’s dérive (an unplanned walk in an urban environment) takes place in a neighborhood that you may be feeling that way about in the very near future – and in fact, many of the true bargains are already in the past – Long Island City, Queens. One subway stop from 59th and Lexington (on the N and Q lines) and from Grand Central (on the 7 train), or from 53rd and Lexington (on the E train), this neighborhood is much more convenient to midtown Manhattan than most areas in Manhattan itself, has a thriving arts scene, and a park on the East River with magnificent views of the Manhattan skyline.
Long Island City (LIC) was its own actual city until joining greater New York in 1898. The area was originally the home to numerous factories and bakeries, but now many of these spaces have been or are in the process of being transformed. The Silvercup Bakery site was converted in 1983 to Silvercup Studios, the largest TV and film production studio in the Northeast United States. “Sex and the City” shot there, and current shows shot at Silvercup include “Elementary” and “Girls.” The sign is visible from many areas in LIC and from the 7, N and Q trains as you head toward Queensboro Plaza. The iconic Pepsi-Cola sign, visible from most riverfront areas of Midtown East in Manhattan, sits in front of the former Pepsi factory, now being converted to residential condos.
In my walk around Long Island City, I was drawn as usual to the waterfront – in this case, a beautiful sprawling park along the East River. Hunter’s Point South Park (a city park) and Gantry Plaza State Park meander for about a mile along the shores of the East River. The views of Midtown Manhattan from here are extraordinary.
The rapidly changing nature of this neighborhood has its pluses and minuses, as is typical when an area is redeveloped. The building covered in graffiti from multiple artists, 5 Pointz, was painted over despite protests and has now been demolished as the site is being replaced by a residential condo development. On the other hand, since the contemporary art museum PS1 (named after the school building it took over) merged with MoMA in 2000, the museum attracts approximately 150,000 visitors a year to LIC.
The first open house I ever worked in real estate was for a friend and colleague who sold a townhouse in Long Island City for a record price, but one that was still a fraction of what one would pay in Manhattan, or Brooklyn. Queens has come a long way since Claude in Hair (the tribal rock musical on Broadway) claimed to be from Manchester, England, to disguise his shame at hailing from Flushing. Long Island City is already transforming, and while it is still possible to find relative bargains here, a beautiful landmarked townhome or a new development condo with a city view won’t be even relative bargains soon. I was recently asked at a party for advice on investing in a new area (not an uncommon topic of conversation once someone learns you are in real estate) and I recommended Long Island City. The largest producer of fortune cookies in the United States (4 million per day!) is in LIC, but if you decide to make a purchase in the area now, you might be able to create your own luck.