City announces Sunnyside Yards planning team, hears hell from JVB, Nolan


The city is officially moving forward on developing a neighborhood over the Sunnyside Yards by launching a master planning process this summer. The Economic Development Corporation announced today that Alicia Glen, deputy mayor of economic development and Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak, which owns most of the space, signed a letter of intent to collaborate on the plan. The EDC’s announcement confirms Crain’s New York Business’ March 29 report that urbanist Vishaan Chakrabarti will be heading the master plan team. But more people are involved! Cali Williams, an EDC vice president for the last decade, now has the title: director of Sunnyside Yard. And a steering committee headed by Elizabeth Lusskin, president of the Long Island City Partnership and Sharon Greenberger, head of the YMCA for Greater New York (what?) will be consulting on the plan. But wait… what about elected officials who don’t want this to happen? 

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district spans both the LIC and Sunnyside sides of the yards, has been vocal against this project. How the EDC and mayor’s office will be able to push this ahead without the support from the 26th city council rep, I’m really not sure. The yards would have to be rezoned to allow residential development and super tall buildings, something the council member would have to approve. Sunnyside Post reported shortly after the EDC’s announcement today that JVB and State Rep. Catherine Nolan, who also opposes the plan, complained the city went around them on this. Well of course. 

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A souvenir shop opens in industrial Long Island City


A Times Square-style souvenir shop has opened in industrial Long Island City. Just New York Souvenir, at 38-85 13th Street, half a block from the NYCHA Queensbridge Houses, sits within a 10 block Industrial Business Zone where low-rise warehouses and factories dominate but at least 13 hotel sites have cropped up.

“This looks like something on Canal Street,” said a man who stopped in mid-day to sell recycling services.


The owner, Telisha Lee, an LIC native, is assistant to the CEO of Urban Upbound, a public housing community-support organization with a location across the street. “When I started seeing all the hotels popping up I said wow,” she said. “I said hey, maybe I could open up a souvenir shop.” She added she saw the shop as a way to help her jewelry business by eventually displaying her jewelry there.


The Ravenwood IBZ, between 21st Street and the East River, was carved out more than a decade ago under a zoning regime intended to preserve manufacturing. The city succeeded in preventing residential development from taking over this stretch of the Queens waterfront but saw instead the rise of a hotel district. The de Blasio administration, with the support of the city council, announced in 2015 it would create special permit requirements for hotels and storage facilities in these carve-outs. But this has been slow to get underway. The permit requirement for storage facilities came about last year. And just this week, the Department of City Planning launched a public review processfor the hotel special permit proposal.

Ten years ago, after the IBZs were established, the late New York Daily News real estate reporter, Jason Sheftell, compared this carve-out in LIC to “Williamsburg 20 years ago or the Meatpacking District of the 1960s.”


The area is part of the LIC IBZ, which is actually six zones, with this one in Ravenswood, where LIC meets Astoria along the waterfront. In 2008, Sheftell predicted: “(Ravenswood) is five to 10 years from being a completely different place. The IBZ can’t last forever. This area will have to become more residential than it is now. Nothing this close to Manhattan can remain factory land forever.”

Residential development has been underway in the Ravenswood area, at Alma Realty’s waterfront rental complex at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard and Excel’s Vernon Tower by Socrates Sculpture Park. And Blue Mountain Capital recently bought a warehouse property at 11-35 31st Drive, a site zoned to allow residential use.


But the IBZ in Ravenswood is still gritty. Cats still crawl under iron fences and the streets are still desolate at night. Troma Entertainment, the indie-horror movie company is still based here, woodworkers still make custom boxes on 10th Street and newspapers are still printed on Vernon Boulevard before dawn.

“Even though it’s an industrial area I still believe that it’s going to keep turning into the new New York City,” Lee said.


This is what it looks like now. Every day, tourists roll their suitcases from the 21st-Street Queensbridge F-train station past a mural of native rapper Nas and his serious gaze, to the large, beige, Best Western Plus. Or they pass the souvenir shop to get to the Sleep Inn, which sits next to a vacant warehouse. Further down the street is the Giorgio Hotel, between Stone Masters Inc. and Chris Auto Repair. The Howard Johnson on 12th Street looks out onto a vacant lot where another hotel is planned, next to the James Paretti building, an old political club house once known as a club called Exile and now home to an event space called Tammany House. The Mayflower Boutique Hotel a couple doors down opened a few weeks ago. A couple of the near-complete hotels are more original in appearance. The La Quinta Inn, with some tropical color, mostly matches the gray, industrial power plant right behind it. And Hotel Nirvana on 37th Avenue is all gray and bulky like a factory, lit up by blue lights at night.


The oncoming hotels suggests more retail and even souvenir shops will come to the IBZ, says Shan, an employee at Just New York Souvenir. “A year, a year and a half, you’re going to find so many stores here,” he said, before specifying gift shops.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Rob MacKay, director for Queens Tourism Council. “I don’t think any of those tourists necessarily walk around down there. Most of the Long Island City tourists are there because they want to be one subway stop from Manhattan so they’re probably going to Manhattan.”


Asked if Just New York Souvenir is the first gift shop of its kind in Queens, MacKay said some stores have some New York souvenirs, but he hadn’t heard of entire shops as such in the borough.

BDB: BQX is still on

Screengrab of a rendering of the BQX at Queens Plaza from

Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed the New York Daily News today for reporting that he “may ditch” the BQX streetcar proposal. The News had reported on a comment by Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for economic development, that implied that if the streetcar turns out to not be self-funding, then the city might have to consider a different use of capital funds. This is the quote the News reported this week and I posted on Corner (and was posted all over the place):

“Assuming that it does not pay for itself… then we have to decide whether or not this is the right use of capital money for a transportation project.”

I never took that to mean De Blasio is backing off the BQX, and I don’t think the News reported it that way. (Disclosure: I interned for the News in 2013). You can read the quote as many times as I did. This is what De Blasio told a caller (Nick from Astoria, at 16 minutes in) on The Brian Lehrer Show segment, “Ask the Mayor” (Disclosure: I work for Brian Lehrer in a different capacity) asking for clarification on his commitment:

“This is an instance where a real disservice has been done by the media, specifically the Daily News, in taking comments that presented no change in our position whatsoever and trying to reflect something entirely different… I don’t understand how a journalist does that. I don’t understand how a journalist goes out of their way to misrepresent the facts, and I’ve seen it way too often lately at the Daily News.”

“My deputy mayor spoke about the complexities of a major undertaking like this. But it’s one we believe is going to be very, very valuable for what’s one of the single biggest growth areas and population centers of the entire city of New York, the East River Waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens. This is increasingly the core of New York City and we think the BQX is going to be a high impact investment in the community. And also because I think it’s going to be part of positive development of housing, affordable housing, job creation, that’s part of why it interacts very positively with what we’re trying to do overall to help those communities strengthen. It’s going to serve 40,000 public housing residents in many communities that are underserved by mass transit. But it’s a big, complicated endeavor and it’s certainly going to require some federal support as well, which is something I’m very hopeful about particularly because of the presence of Senator Schumer in the Senate, the roll he plays. We’re moving forward but we have to get the exact details right and we’re going to have a plan…”

“We must have more mass transit and it’s not going to be created by the MTA on the scale we need.”

So the point of the story is BDB is still committed to the BQX, regardless of what Alicia Glen said.

Sailboat hits Roosevelt Island Bridge

A sailboat got caught with the top of its sail against the Roosevelt Island Bridge Monday evening. No one was injured and the boat was towed, reports NBC.

A few notes:

  • The city council is investigating Jared Kushner’s company for falsely claiming that buildings it owned and sold in Astoria didn’t have rent-regulated tenants.
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney dismissed the campaign funding of her primary challenger, Suraj Patel by saying “it’s mainly from Indiana, where he’s from… mainly a huge amount of the name Patel, which is his name.” Patel told BuzzFeed that not all Patels are related, suggesting that Maloney is racist. “I guess I didn’t realize Rep. Maloney hired Steve Bannon as her campaign strategist,” he said.

More politics and news round-up after the jump!

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