LIC Is Becoming The Place To Stay In NYC
Neighborhood leads Queens’ hospitality boom with 36 new hotels in the works
by Rey Mashayekhi
Long Island City’s remarkable transformation has not only been limited to a bevy of brand new, luxury residential developments, nor a crop of rehabilitated factories and warehouses turned into spacious, amenity-filled office and commercial buildings. In recent years, the neighborhood has seen a tremendous influx of new hotel projects that have looked to capitalize on the area's close proximity to the tourism and business hotbed that is Midtown Manhattan – as well as Queens’ ever-rising stock as a destination in its own right.
This hospitality boom isn’t just limited to LIC – the number of hotel developments in the outer boroughs has skyrocketed in recent years, with Queens and Brooklyn together accounting for 82 of the 204 hotel projects in the pipeline in New York City through the end of last year, according to Lodging Econometrics. Queens alone houses no fewer than 50 such developments, as the borough’s tourism industry has been boosted by Lonely Planet’s designation of Queens as the No. 1 travel destination in the U.S. in 2015.
As the world finally comes around to how great Queens really is, developers have responded by bringing more hotel rooms to the market -- and no neighborhood has felt the effects more than Long Island City. According to the LIC Partnership, there are currently 36 new hotels and 4,850 new rooms either in planning or under construction in the neighborhood; this wave of development would more than double Long Island City’s current count of 28 hotels in operation, and nearly triple the 2,740 rooms presently in the area.
Why Long Island City? Location undoubtedly is a major influence; the neighborhood sits just across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, offering a convenient alternative to travelers who may want to dodge pricier Manhattan room rates. As in much of Queens, many of the current and coming hospitality offerings in Long Island City are “limited-service” hotels – popular flags catering to business travelers in town for a few days, or perhaps tourists looking for a budget rate and easy access (via the neighborhood’s bountiful public transit offerings) into Manhattan.
But Long Island City is also emerging as a location for higher-end, “boutique” hotels, as developers look to build on the neighborhood’s burgeoning reputation as one of the city’s coolest locales. Like Williamsburg, where “boutique” developments like the William Vale and the Williamsburg Hotel have sought to benefit from the Brooklyn neighborhood’s emergence, hoteliers are now betting on Long Island City as a hip, outer borough destination for visitors from all over the world.
The Ravel Hotel, at 8-08 Queens Plaza South, was one of the first such hotels to pop up in LIC in 2008. Ravel Management Group, led by Ravi Patel, announced an ambitious expansion of the property in 2013 that promised to nearly double its room count and add 35,000 square feet of outdoor space and amenities. At the LIC Partnership’s annual real estate breakfast and panel discussion in April, Patel noted that Long Island City offers developers a relatively affordable opportunity to pursue such projects – adding that to undertake a similar expansion in Manhattan “would probably quadruple my costs.”
Other new hotel developments, meanwhile, have sought to join the cadre of new residential towers reshaping Long Island City’s skyline. The 160-room Marriott Courtyard Long Island City sits in a brand new, 31-story glass skyscraper at 29-15 Queens Plaza North – which became one of the tallest buildings in Queens upon its completion this year, according to New York YIMBY. The hotel occupies the building’s bottom floors, while the upper levels hold a 132-unit residential complex known as the Aurora. At 27-45 Jackson Avenue, meanwhile, Starwood Hotels’ new 18-story, 176-room Aloft Long Island City will become the tallest all-hotel building in Queens upon its expected opening later this year.
Japanese firm Tokoyo Inn is aiming higher than anyone else in the LIC, however. The company filed plans last month for a massive 50-story, 261,000-square-foot hotel -- holding an incredible 1,260 rooms -- at 24-09 Jackson Avenue, according to The Real Deal. The building’s planned height of 514 feet, according to permits filed with the city’s Department of Buildings, would give it a special place in the Long Island City skyline, while the enormous room count would make it the biggest hotel in the borough and one of the largest in the entire city.
Midtown Properties, meanwhile, has looked to develop the extended-stay hotel market in Long Island City – a space that the firm, led by brothers Ian and Robert Cheng, felt was being underserved in the neighborhood. Enter their planned 10-story, 133-room property at 38-42 11 Street, which will carry Marriott’s TownePlace Suites flag. The hotel will offer up to 30-day stays in rooms featuring refrigerators, sinks, microwaves and dishwashers, and will primarily target business travelers who would be drawn by the area’s proximity to the Midtown Manhattan business district.
Competition is indeed an issue, as is the flood of new rooms set to hit the market in Long Island City in coming years – factors that have some worried about a potential oversupply in the hotel market, both in the neighborhood and throughout New York City at large. The glut in supply, as well as increased competition from home-sharing websites like Airbnb, has raised fears about potentially sagging room rates and a decline in occupancy.
But others have pointed out to the New York City hotel market’s resilience as reason for optimism, with the city continually outperforming other markets in North America as far as hotel room demand and occupancy rates. “I would never bet against New York,” Jan Freitag, senior vice president of lodging insight at hotel industry research firm STR, told me. “It’s one of the rare cities where it could be said that if you build it, they will come.
Hoteliers are doing just that in LIC – and if the neighborhood’s remarkable development to date tells us anything, it’s that the people will most assuredly follow.