Meet The Developers Making LIC The Place To Be
A look at the firms that have brought -- and are bringing -- thousands of new apartments to Long Island City
by Rey Mashayekhi
It’s no secret that Long Island City has become one of New York City’s most active neighborhoods in terms of new residential development in recent times, with dozens of development firms looking to transform the area via tens of thousands of new rental and condo units planned to arrive on the market in coming years.
But who are the developers who are bringing about this change, and to what extent are they invested in the neighborhood and its continued progression? The private firms that are helping to bring an estimated 22,000 new apartments to Long Island City over the next half-decade or so range in size, experience and exposure to the market.
Some of them are family-helmed LIC veterans who are no strangers to the Queens waterfront’s potential, while others are massive national companies that are only recently upping their presence in the neighborhood. And while a few of them have made their impact in LIC through one or two large projects featuring unit counts in the hundreds, if not thousands, several have made their imprint through numerous developments scattered all over the area.
Here’s a closer look at the developers who are ushering Long Island City into a new era:
Founded in 1970 by the Elghanayan brothers, Rockrose originally made its name through revitalizing brownstones in Greenwich Village. But over the course of five decades, the company has expanded its presence both outside of New York (specializing in the Washington, D.C. market, in particular) and within – building approximately 10,000 residential units in total across its business, as well as 2.5 million square feet of office space and 500,000 square feet of retail, according to the firm’s website.
Since the 2000s, Rockrose has become among the most prolific residential developers in the neighborhood, with completed projects including the 184-unit, 258,000-square-foot condo building at 4630 Center Boulevard; a 31-story, 394-unit rental high-rise at 4705 Center Boulevard; and, more recently, a 42-story, 709-unit rental tower at 43-10 Crescent Street, known as Linc LIC.
But despite all that development, the firm – now led by Henry Elghanayan and his son, Justin – shows no signs of slowing down in Long Island City; in fact, some of its most ambitious plans for the neighborhood appear yet to come. Rockrose topped out earlier this year on the Hayden – a 50-story, 974-unit rental tower at 43-25 Hunter Street that is already one of the tallest buildings in Queens and slated to open next year – and is currently at work on an even bigger project at 43-22 Queens Street: a planned 54-story, 790-unit redevelopment of the former Eagle Electric Manufacturing building that is expected to stand 580 feet tall upon completion.
In 2009, two of the brothers at the helm of Rockrose – Tom and Fred Elghanayan – decided to spin off from the family firm and start their own enterprise. The new company, TF Cornerstone, not only retained a sizable chunk of Rockrose’s NYC- and D.C.-focused portfolio in the split, but has since made moves of its own in Manhattan, Brooklyn and, of course, Long Island City.
The firm currently owns a cadre of rental buildings along Center Boulevard (just behind the landmark Pepsi-Cola sign on the East River waterfront) as part of the sprawling East Coast LIC development that was initiated when the Elghanayans were all still working together at Rockrose and which brought well over 2,000 new apartments to the neighborhood. Those buildings include the 32-story, 345-unit 4540 Center Boulevard; the 41-story, 820-unit 4545 Center Boulevard; the 26-story, 584-unit 4610 Center Boulevard; the 41-story, 367-unit 4615 Center Boulevard; and the 32-story, 498-unit 4720 Center Boulevard.
But TF Cornerstone’s largest LIC project is still ahead of it – that being the nearly 1,200-unit rental building comprising the final parcel of Phase I of the ambitious Hunter’s Point South development. The city selected TF Cornerstone in 2013 to develop the property, located between Borden and 54th avenues; while work was slow to start and subsequently delayed (unbeknownst to the developer, an Amtrak tunnel and power lines underneath the site prompted a reevaluation of the plans), the company expects to start construction next year. In addition to approximately 700 affordable rental units, TF Cornerstone’s Hunter’s Point South project will also include a new 600-seat elementary school.
Like the Elghanayans, the Shirian family has built a real estate dynasty of its own at Lions Group. Brothers Albert and Ramin Shirian started the company in the mid-1980s; while initially focusing on single-family homes in Long Island, they subsequently ventured into the multifamily sector and later into condominiums, gradually scaling up the size of their projects.
By the mid-2000s, Lions Group was firmly focused on Long Island City and was building condo developments like a 15-story, 65-unit property at 44-27 Purves Street and a 12-story, 49-unit building at 10-50 Jackson Avenue. The company has followed that blueprint with more recent projects like the Vista, a 15-story, 48-unit condo at 44-15 Purves Street, and the Bindery, a seven-story, 20-unit boutique development at 47-34 11th Street.
Today, the Lions Group team includes Albert’s son Aaron, who serves as managing director, and the firm is setting its sights higher than ever – as well as recalibrating its strategy to lean more towards rentals than condos. As well as continuing to work on mid-sized projects like a 12-story, 87-unit building at 41-22 24th Street, the company is currently building a 20-story, 110-unit high-rise featuring ground-floor -retail at 42-10 27th Street.
And last year, Lions Group announced its biggest developments yet, the Jackson East and the Jackson West: two Raymond Chan-designed residential towers, climbing north of 30 stories each, at 26-32 and 27-01 Jackson Avenue.
While by no means among the most prolific developers in terms of number of projects, the father-and-son duo of Jerry and David Wolkoff promise to transform Long Island City in one fell swoop: via a two-tower, 1,115-unit residential complex on the former site of the warehouse-turned-graffiti mecca known as 5Pointz.
In the late-1970s, the elder Wolkoff paid more than $1 million for a 200,000-square-foot industrial warehouse complex occupying an entire block in Court Square. But rather than redevelop the property, he instead allowed it to be transformed into one of the most heralded street art sites in the world, with its entire exterior coated with the spray-painted works of hundreds, if not thousands, of graffiti artists.
Of course, as the Long Island City real estate market accelerated in the early parts of this decade, the -Wolkoffs realized the time was right to capitalize on the site’s potential; much to the consternation of local artists and community members, they received approval from the city to build condos on the property in 2013, and subsequently whitewashed the building’s exterior that November before demolishing the warehouse the following August.
The massive 1.2 million-square-foot residential complex that the Wolkoffs’ G&M Realty has in store for the site at 22-44 Jackson Avenue will feature two towers rising 41 and 48 stories in height, respectively. It will also bear the 5Pointz name, according to the developer. But in addition to a sizable retail component and the usual residential amenities, there will also be thousands of square feet devoted to housing artists’ studios – ensuring that some semblance of the site’s cultural heritage lives on.
One of the largest private development firms in the country, Tishman Speyer primarily invests its billions in what are known as “core markets.” In New York, that means Manhattan; the outer boroughs are usually an afterthought.
But that’s no longer the case. For its first-ever outer borough project, Tishman Speyer pulled no punches – drawing up an enormous, three-building residential complex spanning 1.7 million square feet and slated to hold around 1,900 units in the heart of Long Island City. The three towers comprising the development at 28-10 Jackson Avenue will rise 43, 45 and 53 stories, respectively, upon expected completion in 2018 – with the first tower to start construction, at 28-02 Jackson Avenue, already a part of the LIC skyline.
While it’s natural to wonder whether such a project is a one-off for the developer, rest assured: Tishman Speyer’s investment in the neighborhood goes beyond the residential complex, with plans for a similarly ambitious, two-towered, 1.1 million-square-foot office development right across the street, at 28-07 Jackson Avenue. Tishman Speyer executives have said that the firm’s vision is to have the people who work in the office buildings also live in their apartments – an attitude indicative of the developer’s faith in Long Island City and its investment there.
Long Island City-based Criterion Group, led by developer Shibber Khan, is no stranger to the area; most of the firm's projects are located in Queens, including a planned nine-story, 569-unit residential complex at 30-37 Vernon Boulevard in Astoria, just a few blocks north of downtown LIC. In Long Island City itself, Criterion is currently at work on a 12-story, 194-unit rental building at 11-39 49th Avenue that is slated for completion in 2018. Khan's firm also acquired a 253,000-square-foot development site at 31-08 and 31-16 Northern Boulevard from Brooklyn developer Joel Gluck for $40 million last year; while Criterion was reportedly planning a long-term hold of the property, as of August the company was looking to flip the five-parcel site after receiving interest from developers eyeing a potential office complex there.
Simon Baron Development currently has plans for two Long Island City residential high-rises. The firm is currently building a 42-story, 467-unit tower at 29-26 Northern Boulevard, which it acquired from Simon Dushinsky’s Rabsky Group for a reported $54 million in 2014. And last year, Simon Baron also filed plans for a 28-story, 296-unit rental tower on the former site of the Paragon Paint factory, at 45-40 Vernon Boulevard.
Like Tishman Speyer, Stephen Ross’ Related Companies is both a real estate giant and a relative newcomer to Long Island City. But Related was integral in the city’s plans to transform Hunter’s Point South – kicking off the first phase of that project with two adjacent, entirely affordable residential complexes holding a combined 925 units between Borden and 50th avenues on the East River waterfront.
Dushinky’s Rabsky Group, meanwhile, is looking to carry its reputation as one of the most successful residential developers in Brooklyn over to LIC. The firm launched leasing earlier this year at its new 26-story, 284-unit rental building at 44-41 Purves Street, known as Halo LIC, and for its second act in the neighborhood is planning an 18-story, 195-unit property at 42-20 27th Street – one featuring an angular, modern design by architect Eran Chen’s firm, ODA.
And finally, there’s Heatherwood Communities – the Long Island-based developer and landlord that has traditionally called the suburbs home and long specialized in sprawling rental communities. That changed only toward the end of the last decade, when the company began to focus more on New York City.
Since then, Heatherwood has completed and opened a 27-story, 142-unit rental building at 27-03 42nd Road, known as 27 on 27th. For its second Long Island City endeavor, however, the firm took things to another level entirely: an enormous 58-story, 477-unit residential tower at 42-12 28th Street, called Tower 28. While still under construction, the building topped out at 647 feet earlier this year – making it, for the time being, the second-tallest building in Queens (behind One Court Square) and New York’s tallest residential building outside Manhattan.