BY TRONE DOWD
At Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s State of the Borough address last Friday, growing development and the real estate scene were singled out as two of the leading reasons Queens is currently one of the hottest areas in the city.
From Southeast Queens’ growing hotel industry to Long Island City’s continued success in the luxury real estate market, Queens has come a long way from lagging behind Brooklyn and Manhattan in terms of interest from developers and investors.
Katz called out numerous plans from her office to keep this growth going as well as some of the successes she and her staff have been able to assist.
In South Queens, Katz announced that she will endorse a proposed $400 million expansion of the Resorts World Casino and Aqueduct Racetrack. The project would include a 400-room hotel for New York City’s only casino. Along with the hotel, which would accommodate the growing number of tourists expected to visit Queens this year, the project would include a 20,000-square-foot spa and resort as well as a 140,000-square-foot convention center.
“In its five years of operations, Resorts World has proven to be an exemplary neighbor to the surrounding community,” Katz said. “With the potential for more good-paying jobs and attracting even more visitors, I believe the expansion of Resorts World is a good partnership for this borough.”
She also mentioned the continued work in the Rockaways helping those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Since the reconstruction of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, $138 million left over from Federal Emergency Management Agency grants will be allocated to help residents still in need more than four years later.
Jamaica in particular has been the site of rapid development plans for the hotel industry. According to a report from the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, more than 10 hotels are planned, bringing 1,953 rooms to the neighborhood.
With those developments, however, have come concerns. Residents of both community boards 12 and 13 have been wary of the development and its ability to bring worthy investments to the region. Instead, many worry that shortly after the hotels are opened, they will become shelters. The possibility that this will happen has yet to be disproven, as it has happened in many hotels around the borough. Katz acknowledged the concern.
“With a sharp rise in citywide homelessness, the city has increasingly resorted to using hotels, sometimes entire hotels, to house people while giving little or no notice to the existing communities,” Katz said. “The impact of this in Queens has been substantial.”
The borough president proposed that a special permit be required to place a hotel in a given neighborhood. In order to receive such a permit, the developer or owner would be vetted by the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
Katz believes that such a process would ensure that community feedback is taken into account and that city agencies have a better grasp on what is being built in the borough.
Over in northern Queens, Willets Point has long been an area of concern, and Katz said that she doesn’t want to waste any time addressing the issues that have plagued the area.
“It’s hard to talk about Flushing Meadows without addressing nearby Willets Point,” Katz said.
She said that almost a decade ago, she spearheaded an urban renewal plan that she hoped would kick-start an effort to make something of the open land. However, that has not been the case. In fact, Katz said she regretted that during the 2015 World Series at Citi Field, the country saw one of Queens’ less sightly sectors featured so prominently.
“Since then, the city has allocated $400 million and spent $300 million on demolishing and moving its businesses,” Katz said. “Yet to this day, it’s still a blight. We have been talking about cleaning up Willets Point for generations. At the bare minimum, [we] can clean it up.”
Katz wants to see the 62-acre parcel of land “prepared for a cleaner future.” Some of the projects she envisions for the unused land include schools, an eco-recreation center, additional parking and stadiums for soccer or hockey.
“Just imagine if we, the world’s borough, hosted the World Cup or the Stanley Cup,” Katz said.
“Everyone is vying to invest there,” Katz said during her address. “No one can deny it. New restaurants and bars, new growth incubators, investments along the waterfront, expansions of R&D in the life sciences, over 19,000 new residential units in the past 10 years and another 22,000 in the pipeline.”
Last year, the Queens Tribune reported that Long Island City is home to 27 operating, with 34 more to be built in the coming years. This figure amounts to over 2,740 rooms and more than 4,850 rooms to come. Transit proposals such as the BQX trolley proposed by the City Council will make the already-popular neighborhood more accessible than before.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123 firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly