Metropolitan Life Insurance Company may indeed vacate its Long Island City building, but has now committed to keeping the bulk of its employees in the borough through 2008.
In a deal approved by the city earlier this month, the company forfeited about half of the tax credits it was promised back in 2001 when it moved to the former Rolls Royce carriage factory on Queens Plaza North near the Queensboro Bridge.
According to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the new deal requires the company to keep at least 85 percent of its 1,700 employees at the Long Island City location through June 2008. In addition, the building must remain at least 30 percent occupied until December 2014.
City officials hailed the new agreement as a win for New York City and Queens. Under the terms of the deal inked back in 2001, the company would have been able to move 15 percent of its employees out of Long Island City this year and leave completely by June 2011.
The new deal also ensures that MetLife will keep its headquarters in New York City until 2026.
“The new agreement with MetLife extends the life of the company’s commitment both to Long Island City and New York City generally at no additional cost to the city,” Josh Sirefman, chairman of the NYC Industrial Development Agency, said in a statement. The deal was inked Nov. 12.
Employees of the insurer who work out of the Long Island City building have complained that the neighborhood was seedy—rife with crime and prostitution and lacking in amenities such as restaurants and shopping areas.
In order to facilitate a return trip to the eateries and shopping across the East River, the company will be taking a big financial hit. MetLife will lose $13.4 million in tax credits. It also agreed to pay a one time $5 million penalty, which is small change considering the city could have levied fines up to twice the amount the company had received in tax credits—or approximately $24 million.
“As far as a dollars and cents business bottom line, it’s left a lot of people scratching their heads,” said Joe Conley, chairman of Community Board 2.
In 2001, the company was hailed as a pioneer in the revitalization of Queens Plaza. But MetLife isn’t the only game in town anymore. The United Nations plans to open a credit union in January, a second Citibank tower is slated to be finished within a year and a half and upward of 2,000 new residential units are slated to hit the market in the next 18 months.
Despite signs that the neighborhood can absorb the loss, some small business owners worry it could spell their end.
“This MetLife building closes, I’m closing too,” said Baghee Kin, who owns a nearby deli with her husband. Kin added that MetLife employees make up 80 percent of her business. If MetLife is on holiday, so is the deli.
At a food truck parked just outside the front doors, the sentiment is similar. Roula “Mama” Melidis, who runs the truck, is worried for her future.
But not everyone is concerned. After ordering a falafel, one well dressed MetLife employee pointed to the development of residential housing in the neighborhood, saying “I don’t think Long Island City is going to go back 15 years ago just because MetLife is leaving.” —Chronicle Correspondent Dmitry Kiper contributed to this story.