The U.S. economy may still be struggling, but look on almost any block in downtown Flushing and you’ll see construction of new buildings and expansion and modernization of others.
The booming commercial real estate market there came as no surprise to a panel of experts who participated in a conference on Friday sponsored by Monroe College and the Flushing Business Improvement District.
Michael Meyer, president of TDC, a major developer in Flushing, including the mixed-use Queens Crossing on Main Street and the future builder of Flushing Commons, the large mixed-use project scheduled to replace Municipal Parking Lot 1. “This is an incredible hub, well situated near airports and ethnically diverse, which gives it a vitality,” Meyer said. “It’s good for real estate investment.”
He pointed out that Flushing has fared better than the rest of the city during the real estate downturn. “It went down 15 percent and now 10 percent here,” Meyer said. “Elsewhere in the city it’s 25 percent.”
The developer added that there is a lot of interest from Asian business people to invest here. “When they come to the United States, it’s Flushing they want to see,” Meyer added. “That will help keep Flushing vibrant.”
Myra Baird Herce, co-president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, attributes part of the real estate boom in Flushing to the immigrant population. “They are very hard-working and highly motivated,” Herce said.
Chuck Apelian, vice chairman of Community Board 7 and head of its Land Use Committee, noted that one reason for success is that Flushing is a major transportation hub. “So many people go through Flushing every day,” Apelian said.
John Young, director of City Planning for Queens, gave an overall presentation about the borough, with specifics on Flushing; “Queens is a gateway to the country,” Young said. “They get a foothold in Flushing and it generates development.”
He indicated that the 2010 Census found 70 percent of the Flushing population is foreign-born, with 30 percent from mainland China, 18 percent from Korea and the rest primarily from South America.
Young believes the future of Flushing development is at the waterfront. “Westward is the direction,” he said. “It can be transformed.”
Rob Holbrook, senior planner for the city’s Economic Development Corp., called Flushing unique with developers still interested in the area and the market remaining strong.
Richard Xia, who is developing the North Queens Medical Center on Union Street, with 65 offices and a hotel with 101 suites, said his project will benefit the community. He pointed out that the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel — where the conference was held — has a 92 percent occupancy rate, which is considered very high.
“There is no more land in Flushing, which actually helps real estate values,” Xia said.
He suggested that the community work together to keep the streets clean and to make the downtown look more uniform to visitors.
Herce agreed, saying the area has to look less busy. “All the signs leave an assault on my senses,” she said. “We need more beautification like hanging flower baskets.”
Apelian would like the Long Island Rail Road station upgraded and elevators installed, a new elementary school for the downtown area and a subway entrance at Prince Street and Roosevelt Avenue.
Young wants more open space such as at the waterfront and said an open square is planned for Flushing Commons.
Holbrook noted that the public is concerned about the infrastructure keeping up with development. “We try to schedule development with infrastructure improvements because we have to think ahead,” he said.