Though not traditionally associated with tourism, Long Island City is proving fertile ground for new hotels because of its proximity to Midtown Manhattan.
Over the last three years, more than a dozen chain and boutique hotels have sprung up in the historically industrial neighborhood, luring travelers with the promise of convenience and value.
“Being so close to the center of New York City and having such great utilizable public transportation, you can drive in or take a subway in,” said Ravi Patel, who opened the 63-room Ravel Hotel on Queens Plaza in 2008 and has purchased an adjacent property where he plans to build additional rooms and a rooftop pool.
Manhattan’s average room rate per night exceeds $200, according to NYCgo.com, a website for tourists. But in LIC, bargain hunters can secure a room for $159 at the Four Points by Sheraton on 39th Avenue, or $189 at the Z Hotel on 43rd Avenue, which opened in April and July of this year, respectively.
And then there are the views. A number of hotels in LIC, including the Z and the Ravel, tout rooms that face Manhattan’s skyline.
The hotel-building frenzy in LIC is part of a citywide trend. At the Z Hotel on Monday, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the Big Apple is expected to boast a record 90,000 hotel rooms by year’s end, which represents a 24 percent increase since 2006. And nearly half of all new hotels set to open are in the outer boroughs.
LIC alone has 17 hotels, offering some 1,500 rooms total, according to the mayor. Five more hotels are under construction, including the Wyndham Garden Long Island City, slated to open next month on 9th Street.
By all accounts, LIC’s existing hotels are thriving. The Sheraton is booked to capacity on most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, according to Cathy Pascale, director of sales. Patel reports that the Ravel runs at 90 percent occupancy or higher most of the year, with the exception of January and February.
Gayle Baron, president of the Long Island City Business Development Corporation, is confident that the hotels are indeed prospering.
“It really seems as if these hotels have been doing well. They’ve been booking, I think, a very sizeable audience,” she said.
Hotel guests include both business and leisure travelers. And while not lacking in domestic patrons, the Z and the Ravel said they had many international guests, mostly from European countries. Baron often runs into such visitors near her office on Queens Plaza.
“I’m stopped at least twice a week by someone who has gotten off the train or is coming in from the airport, asking how to get to X hotel,” she said. “They are usually German, Italian and French.”
LIC’s hotel boom is linked to the October 2008 rezoning of a 40-block section of the Dutch Kills neighborhood meant to open the area to residential development. The rezoning spurred hotel construction, with hoteliers rushing to have 80 percent of their buildings’ foundations poured in time to be grandfathered in under the previous regulations, which allowed greater height.
“The concern of the community was to maintain the character of the one and two-family homes in the area,” said longtime Dutch Kills resident George L. Stamiatades, vice chairman of Community Board 1 and executive director of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, an active proponent of the rezoning. “Once the zoning change was imminent, there was a hurry-up mode to get in under the wire.”
According to Stamiatades, a once-skeptical constituency is warming up to the hotels because of the economic boon the influx of tourists could represent for local businesses.
“At the outset, the community’s vibe was negative,” said Stamiatades. “They were afraid of these hotels not being successful which, as it turns out, they are. They thought if [the hotels] weren’t successful to a legitimate clientele, they would become hot-sheet motels. That, of course, didn’t materialize.
“There’s been an acceptance and [residents] are seeing the positive side of the hotels, which is additional business for the local community.
“You’re not going to take the hotels away; you are not going to take away floors if they block your view,” he added. “What’s the sense of getting upset over something that is legal and in place?”
Hotel development in LIC has sometimes been contentious, however. In 2010, Dutch Kills residents sued developer Steven Bahar and the Board of Standards and Appeals over a proposed hotel at 39-35 27 St. The homeowners argued that Bahar, who also opened Hotel Vetiver on 39th Avenue, had not made enough progress on the building’s foundation to merit the variance he was granted by the BSA.
Nonetheless, the hotels are shaping up to be good for culture in LIC, which is well-known for its artistic community. The Z Hotel and the Holiday Inn Manhattan View on 29th Street, which opened in 2009, are among several establishments that display the work of local artists on their premises.
“If the hotels take a vested interest and really try to promote the artists and not just use them for free artwork, it can work out for everyone involved,” said sculptor Chris Vilardi, president of the nonprofit Long Island City Artists and a member of the Dutch Kills Civic Association’s board of directors. “It’s not as symbiotic as it ought to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
At the Fisher Landau Center for Art, a modern art museum on 30th Street around the corner from the Holiday Inn and Hotel Vetiver, the front desk staff has told the institution’s director, Nicholas Arbatsky, that there are an increasing number of hotel visitors stopping by.
“When the weather is bad, we have more visitors because of the hotels,” said Arbatsky.
Overall, Baron is optimistic about the long-term commercial benefits the hotels will bring to LIC.
“The hotels are a positive because they bring additional life to an area. They create more of a 24/7 environment and that always leads to other services,” she said. “We’re at a point where we’re seeing more interest in retail and restaurants on Queens Plaza. I think that is certainly due to the fact that there are more people in the neighborhood.”