It wasn’t that long ago that the East River shoreline at Hunters Point was a dirty, urban, often slummy-looking area, home to a decaying manufacturing zone.
Industry still finds a home in Long Island City, in the area between Van Dam Street and Vernon Boulevard — but closer to the banks of the river, what was once a center of industry where cargo was transported from ships to Long Island Rail Road trains is now a thriving urban neighborhood.
And with that community comes thousands of construction jobs.
The sound of hammers, drills and air horns warning of a crane in use echo through Hunters Point, even as many of the apartment towers that rise there are completed and occupied. On any given weekday, hundreds of workers donning hardhats scurry around construction sites, slowly piecing together the future of this corner of Queens literally nail by nail.
South of 50th Avenue, work moves forward on the next phase of development along the Long Island City waterfront — Hunters Point South.
The project, spearheaded by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, is being developed by Related Companies, which has also worked on several massive developments in Manhattan such as the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle. Their partners are Phipps Houses, the oldest nonprofit developer, owner and manager of affordable housing in New York City; and Monadnock Construction, which has worked on dozens of projects across the city and in Queens, including most recently the Bernard Fineson Center senior housing development in Howard Beach.
Ground broke on the first two residential towers in Phase I of the development in March. At the time, the project was heralded as a major part of Mayor Bloomberg’s development policy: waterfront and expansion of affordable housing.
“Two of the hallmarks of Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development agenda — enlivening our waterfront and an historic expansion of affordable housing — are being further advanced with the progress of Hunters Point South,” said Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel. “This is an extraordinary accomplishment that will create a dynamic new community on the Queens waterfront.”
When completed, Hunters Point South will be the largest affordable housing development built in the city since the early 1970s, when Co-op City and Starrett City in the Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively, were built. More buildings are expected to be constructed later in the decade along the waterfront down to the actual point at the mouth of Newtown Creek, developing an area that has always been at best an industrial center, at worst a patch of vacant land.
At least 5,000 new residential units will be constructed, about 60 percent of which will be reserved for middle-income households. The two buildings in Phase I will include more than 900 housing units and roughly 20,000 square feet of new retail space. One hundred percent of the housing in the towers will be for low-, moderate- and middle-income families. Other additions will include five acres of new waterfront parkland, which is nearing completion; a new school, PS/IS 404, slated to open in September; as well as new retail space, and parking. Phase I construction is expected to finish in 2014.
Jessica Scaperotti, the spokeswoman for Related, said the project, which is only at its beginning stages, will create at least 1,200 jobs. And the revitalization of the Hunters Point area has employed thousands more in the last couple of decades.
The neighborhood saw its first apartment tower rise in the mid-1990s with the Queens West development. For years that was the only building in the area It wasn’t until the early 2000s that more developments began rising along the waterfront.
Hunters Point was the proposed site of the Olympic Village in New York City’s failed bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. The plan was for the athletes to use the buildings during the games and then have them become residential apartments afterwards, establishing a new community, similar to what happened in other cities that have hosted the games such as Barcelona and Sydney.
But even though the world’s best athletes never called the neighborhood home, development continued through the last decade with at least a half-dozen more apartment towers being constructed on the riverfront. With them came the revitalization of Gantry Plaza State Park, which first opened in 1998 at the site where cargo was transported from ships to trains, expanded northward in 2009 and soon will include the waterfront all the way south to the mouth of Newtown Creek. A section of the new parkland will open next month.
Some residents in the area are anxious to see what the project means to the the fast-changing neighborhood.
“This area has definitely seen a lot more action recently,” said Tara Cooper, who has lived in the neighborhood for almost a decade, noting the number of new restaurants and stores that have opened up in recent years. “It’s certainly a new and exciting place. I can’t wait to see what it looks like over there.”