The enigma of the ‘lost coast of Queens’

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In a 2017 piece titled, “Discovering the Lost Coast of Queens,” the New York Times profiled several of the developing residential building projects along the Astoria-area East River waterfront. The southern-most of those projects, Alma Realty’s 34-46 Vernon Boulevard, was just getting the “finishing touches,” the Times reported then. The double-headed, 17-story, 404-unit development squeezed between a Ravenswood power plant sub-generator and the film and TV warehouse by Rainy Park, was expected to be leasing, the Times had reported, by the fall of 2017. More than two years and a pandemic since that projected date, the yet-to-open set of towers sits behind a wall of deteriorated construction signs and has become a neighborhood enigma.

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“It is going to open,” an unidentified voice told me, this last July 6, when I called Alma. The building is “still in the process of construction,” the voice said. I asked if there was a delay. “No delay,” the voice said. I was transferred, as usual – I’ve called several times before the Covid-19 pandemic – to a line that went to voicemail.

One might use the pandemic as an explanation, but the state didn’t include non-essential construction in its stop-work order until April, and then didn’t, in actuality, fully include non-essential construction until late May. Besides, a document displayed at the site shows Alma was granted an essential business permit to proceed in April. In any case, these last few months don’t count for the five-plus years since construction began.

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Five-plus years is almost the same amount of time I’ve lived here, within a few blocks of the site. I’ve watched the building unfold slowly, sometimes having conversations with neighbors or roommates who were confused about the endless construction site/empty building by Rainy Park. One local business owner who’d set up shop after Alma’s construction began, was waiting for the building to open, counting on those hundreds of new potential customers. After the pandemic set in, that person has sold her business, a new cashier told me. Another neighbor is more weary, not looking forward to the influx of high-income tenants. And some people just ask me, because I’m a journalist, if I’ve figured out yet what the deal is with that huge empty building that’s been sitting there more than five years.

To put five-plus years in perspective, 432 Park Avenue, the stick-like super-tower known as the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, just across the East River, took about three years to build. Skyline Tower, the Long Island City residential scraper known as the tallest building in New York outside Manhattan, is expected (New York YIMBY reported on March 30) to be finished by the end of this year, after construction began in late 2017, making work possibly only three years. Vernon Tower, one of the buildings profiled in the Times piece, seems to have been built in about three years. A two-decade analysis in 2018 by real estate site, The Real Deal, found, with the exception of hotels, the median duration of building construction in New York City to be about three years.

The Real Deal also reported, in 2016, that Alma bought the land at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard in 2001. Records show the company filed for excavation and foundation work in 2008. TRD reported in 2010 that the project, then called Alma Towers, had been “beset by construction snags and recession-related issues.” An architect told the outlet that during the economic crisis, rising steel prices necessitated a redesign, pushing the work back to 2012. Work kicked off in the fall of 2014, YIMBY had reported, bringing the site up to 13 or 14 stories by June 2015. The signage at that time projected a completion date of spring 2016.

From what I can tell, the usual real estate outlets stopped reporting on the project except for the Times’ real estate section with its “Lost Coast” piece, which also used the phrase “gold coast.” One of the developments mentioned, Alma’s other, more high-profile project – a five-building, 1,700 unit megaproject – Astoria Cove, was slated for a site by the Astoria Houses on the northern edge of the Halletts Point peninsula, next to the Hallets Point megaproject. After facing pressure from affordable housing advocates, organized labor and then-Borough President Melinda Katz, the Astoria Cove zoning proposal passed the City Council in late 2014, becoming the first development to fall under Mayor de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning program, with 27 percent of the units below market rate. Alma never broke ground on the project, which was, in 2016, attributed to the expiration of state tax abatement program 421-a. The company put the site on the market, temporarily. In a 2019 post-mortem of sorts, Politico New York later said the project “didn’t actually have the correct breakdown of low-income units to qualify for the new version of [the 421-a] abatement.” The Politico piece ultimately portrays Alma as possibly an inept, minor developer in over its head.

The print version of the Times’ piece was titled, “The Lost Coast of Queens,” which suggests the Astoria-area waterfront had been known in the past. Maybe the point was developers had forgotten about it since the Shore Towers were built in 1990 or since East River Tower was built in 2007. The online article included the word, “Discovering,” suggesting, perhaps, developers had been unaware that desirable, as in convenient or scenic, waterfront existed north the Gantry Plaza State Park. The piece, apparently contradicting those notions, describes Alma as “a family-run firm that has invested in the area for decades.” That’s because Alma is part of the area. The company, which has properties all around the Tri-state area and more than a dozen branch offices, has its headquarters about 15 blocks away, or a 20 minute walk, from 34-46 Vernon Boulevard, at 31-10 37th Avenue in the Dutch Kills section of Long Island City. Alma’s founder, Efstathios Valiotis, came to the U.S. from Greece, a TRD profile says, in 1972. LIC-based Greek-American newspaper the National Herald toured Alma’s headquarters in 2017, describing Alma as “one, if not the only one, of the few expatriate companies from the concierge up to the supervisors in complex construction who speak Greek.”

The National Herald, which appears to have mixed up the Citigroup Building with Citicorp Center, misdating the arrival of the former by at least 10 years, and may have exaggerated Alma’s stock in the emerging waterfront (Astoria Cove and 34-46 Vernon Boulevard together would have surpassed Halletts Point by only about 100 units), was given a tour of 34-46 Vernon Boulevard. The Herald reported, back then in 2017, that the “apartments are functional,” set with washer-dryers and balconies, though I’m not sure the balconies were finished. The piece, which doesn’t get into delays or politics, is a warm portrait of Valiotis and his daughter, the company CEO Sophia Valiotis, involving a photo of them in an office, behind them a stack of cases of Crystal Geyser sparkling water. The short TRD profile of Efstathios (or Steve) Valiotis includes an alleged 1990s European bank-corruption scheme. In 2015, Politico New York reported, tenants rights group Stabilizing NYC included Alma on its offender list. The group found seven Alma buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan with reports of tenant harassment, disrepair and vermin. Con Edison was suing Alma for stolen gas. In 2016, then-Public Advocate Leticia James listed Valiotis as the number three worst landlord in New York City for racking up 1,141 total violations. Valiotis is not on Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ current list. As of this post, Department of Buildings records show the project at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard has racked up 97 violations.

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To connect Astoria to UES

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Partial NYC Ferry route map: pink dots added.

An alliance involving the Durst Organization, the Waterfront Alliance and pols are calling for an NYC Ferry connection between the Astoria and East 90th Street stops. “We have the Hallets Point dock and we have the dock at 90th Street. We just need the city to provide us with the service,” Congress Member Carolyn Maloney said at an event on Saturday.

The event was held by the Halletts Point Alliance, which seems to be some sort of non-profit extension of the Durst Organization’s emerging Halletts Point development. Waterfront Alliance director Karen Imas said the connection would also benefit the Astoria Houses residents. She noted the hour-long trek it could take to get from the Hallett peninsula to the Upper East Side for “academic institutions, health care institutions, recreational centers.”

HT: QNS, Astoria Post

Halletts Point temp arts site to get Coffeed

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That two-headed glassy building underway at 10 Halletts Point appears almost finished and is supposed to begin leasing this summer. But meanwhile, plenty of the dead space that will make up the seven-building development languishes as most of the project has been stalled. The Real Deal reported earlier this month that the Durst Organization plans to enliven the dead waterfront space in the meanwhile starting this summer (lasting maybe a few years?) with a cultural arts center involving “a stage and a fenced off area for film, dance, music and other events.” Corner has learned that Frank “Turtle” Raffaele, CEO of Coffeed, has partnered with Durst to set up a temporary Coffeed location at the temporary site. The site has been reported as 27th Avenue and 1st Street. But there are kind of two or three different locations at that intersection, the fenced off lot across from 10 Halletts point at the north, a low-rise building of some sort at the south part, and another weird lot south of that where a strange glass thing was standing until recently. I asked Raffaele if the location was where the strange glass thing was and he nodded, but I’m still not sure. In any case, I like that he knew what I was talking about. Continue reading “Halletts Point temp arts site to get Coffeed”

Ravenswood has so much development and CB1 wants to know how you feel about that

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The nor’easter in Ravenswood, 11 a.m., Wednesday, March 21

At this month’s Community Board 1 full meeting, members said they’d be sending out a survey for Ravenswood area residents. The idea, apparently, is to have some measure on how residents feel about changes happening in the area in regards to all the development going on. This should help the board in future land use reviews and all that kind of stuff. The same survey will go out throughout CB1 but it will start in Ravenswood because there’s so much development happening here. I think I can name some of it:

The twin Alma towers at 34-46 Vernon Boulevard. It looks finished, doesn’t it? But someone pointed out to me recently the fences weren’t on the balconies yet. 

The seven-building Halletts Point development.

The site at 11-23 31st Drive which was recently bought for $8 million and holds 33,982 square feet of residential potential. 

And to be honest, IDK what else, except maybe all those hotels in the IBZ

The survey will go out to tenants association type groups CB1 members said but be on the lookout for it in local newspapers, if you guys read those things. 

A few notes: 

  • $450,000 year-round exercise equipment at Queensbridge park, a $500,000 soil science lab at the Ravenswood Houses? These are a couple of the eight ideas that are up for a vote in the 26th council district at the 4th round of participatory budgeting
  • A 7 Train Coalition launched to fight gentrification along the 7 line but I wish they’d call it Occupy the 7 Train. 
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney and other electeds are rallying for early voting in New York. 
  • Did you know March 20th was Queens Day? Here’s State Sen. Gianaris talking about it in Albany: 

 

Continue reading “Ravenswood has so much development and CB1 wants to know how you feel about that”

Simotas introduces bill to save businesses harmed by subway disruption

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One day, I can almost make it out in the distance, the clouds will part, and the N/W stations at 36th and 30th Avenues will reopen and we won’t have to simply stay in our homes all day. But until then, small businesses near these stops say they are suffering. State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas hears them. She has introduced a bill that would offer the business owners tax credits if they see a 25% loss due to a state or city project.

Of course this made me wonder about the Second Avenue Subway. Efforts were made to protect those businesses from the decade-long construction (longer than our eight months) but all I see is grant proposals that were specific to the area. Simotas’ bill in contrast is wide-reaching, applying to the whole state, presumably forever and would apply to “infrastructure” projects in general, according to Queens Chronicle.
The stations are expected to reopen in June, the month when the 39th Ave and Broadway stations are set to close.

H/T Queens Chronicle.

Continue reading “Simotas introduces bill to save businesses harmed by subway disruption”

Applications open for affordable housing at Halletts Point

Applications began at midnight for 81 affordable housing units at Halletts Point. The deadline is May 7. 

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10 Halletts Point, the first of seven buildings underway at the area by Durst Corporation, is set to begin leasing this summer. Altogether, the multi-development will have 2,000 apartments, 400 or 20 percent of which will be affordable. 

A few notes: