Aug. 6, 2010 - Wall Street Journal

Long Island City, a community in Queens on the bank of the East River, is starting to live up to its name: It’s beginning to resemble a self-contained city.

That’s due to a diverse mix of development that intermingles residential, commercial, artistic and public space. There’s even a touch of Hollywood, thanks to Silvercup studios, New York’s largest film studio, where “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” were filmed. The studio has been around for awhile, but the other changes are turning Long Island City, once an unappealing industrial district, into a trendy place to live and work.

“Long Island City is going through a whole transformation,” said Joseph Conley, chairman of Community Board 2. “It had this sense of being gritty because it was primarily industrial for many years…people need to come out and take a second look.”

What they will find is a high level of construction and plans for new spaces and places—from office towers to hotels to parks. Nearly 5,000 residential units are currently under construction or have been recently completed.

The transformation began in 2001, when the Department of City Planning rezoned 37 blocks, which included nine blocks of Jackson Avenue. Much of the new development is either on or off of Jackson Avenue.

Last week, Japanese hotel operator Toyoko Inn Co. detailed plans to develop a 640-room hotel on Jackson Avenue. At 35 stories, it will be the largest city hotel outside of Manhattan and will stand across the street from the 50-story Citigroup tower, which was built in the late 1980s.

According to Gayle Baron, executive director of the Long Island City Business Improvement District, boutiques and bakeries have expressed interest in the area within the past few months.

New restaurants have recently opened and are contributing to the blossoming street life on Jackson Avenue, including the Burger Garage, featuring high-quality burgers; LIC Market, a restaurant, wine bar and market on 44th Drive, a block away from Jackson; and M. Wells, a diner a block away on 49th Avenue that serves high-end meat and has been getting rave reviews.

JetBlue Airways is moving its corporate headquarters from Forest Hills to the historic Brewster building on Queens Plaza off Jackson Avenue, by 2012. The building was the former home of Brewster Aeronautical Co., which manufactured airplanes for the Navy during World War II.

The city’s Department of Health also will relocate to Queens Plaza into Two Gotham Center, a 662,000-square-foot, 21-story tower, by late 2011.

Also off of Jackson, City University of New York’s School of Law will move from Flushing into six floors of a 14-story building at Two Court Square by the fall of 2011.

Jackson Avenue’s appeal lies in its location as a transportation hub. The 7 and G trains both have subway stops serving the corridor.

It is also an arts destination, with attractions such as the Museum of Modern Art’s PS1 Contemporary Art Center, which has an outdoor dance party every Saturday in the summer; 5Pointz, an outdoor exhibit space for graffiti; and the Sculpture Center.

Even with these attributes, Ms. Baron said that 10 years ago, the area “did not have the degree of residential development and commercial business that is in place and on the drawing board now.”

The Gantry Plaza State Park, which has views of Manhattan and four piers that extend into the East River, is being expanded to 40 acres from 11 acres.

Outside of the residential and commercial development, Jackson Avenue is a part of an $80 million capital-improvement project that will install new sidewalks and planted medians, street furniture and a 1½-acre park.

“They are making Jackson Avenue into how it should be,” said Andres Tobon, who works at the Sage General Store on the avenue. “People will be more willing to come and won’t think of this just as the industrial Long Island City.”