Hotels Keep Popping Up in Industrial Long Island City

CAMILLE: Also in Queens… new construction is changing Long Island City. The neighborhood is seeing a hotel boom.

CHAVA: Ten years ago, this gritty industrial neighborhood had just one hotel. Now, it has around 25, with 20 more in development. Now, the neighborhood is part manufacturing hub, part hip tourist destination. My co-host Camille von Kaenel explains.

AMBI Lobby/German tourists speaking

I’m at a five-year old boutique hotel called the Z in Long Island City with a group of German tourists.

BOHN America is New York. And so we are here.

Dietma Bohn tells me he chose this hotel because of its easy access to Manhattan. It takes around fifteen minutes to get to Times Square. The hotel runs a shuttle across the bridge, and by subway, midtown is just one stop away. And there’s another reason too…

BOHN Yeah, and the view. The wonderful view. It’s the best of it all.

AMBI Lobby out

AMBI Roof

He’s right. From the roof of the hotel, I can see the Empire state building, the UN – all of Manhattan. Rob MacKay, the director of the Queens tourism council, points out some of the landmarks on this side of the river.

MACKAY There’s a Con Edison power plant. There’s a – that’s called Big Alice, which is another power plant. Those are the Queensbridge housing projects, the nation’s biggest housing projects, right over there.

Now, we can also see brand new glass high-rises just a couple blocks south. Several hotel marquees pop up among the neighborhood’s low-slung warehouses. A nearby elevator factory was just transformed into a trendy new hostel. And about three years ago, a franchise of hotel chain Wyndham Garden took over a former Verizon warehouse. MacKay tells me none of this existed just 15 years ago.

MACKAY So, this was never a desirable place to live. But my how things changed. (laugh)

AMBI roof out

No one expected industrial areas like Long Island City would one day become desirable for hotel developers… And so no zoning law was ever put in place to prevent it. But, with real estate prices rising all over the five boroughs, and millions of tourists and business travelers coming to the city every year, a hotel in an industrial area suddenly seems like a good investment.

But here’s the thing…

AMBI Truck noise

Long Island City is still a very busy manufacturing area.

Take, for example, York Scaffold Equipment Corporation, just a few blocks away. Trucks and forklifts are already loading and unloading equipment here at 7 a.m.

AMBI Truck noise out

Ken Buettner has run the family business for 25 years, the third generation to do so. He says the growth of hotels is squeezing his business. Real estate prices have doubled or tripled over the last couple of years. Recently, Buettner had to give up an equipment yard he’d been renting for forty years. When it was finally sold, it was too expensive for him. He says the new owner is planning a hotel. But is Buettner going to leave?

BUETTNER  No we’re not going anywhere, we’re going to make it work.

And there’s a good reason for that.

BUETTNER This is a great place for a business to be, because it can reach the customers that it needs to reach. It’s why my grandfather moved here in the 1930s.

Faced with the neighborhood’s increasing popularity, Elizabeth Lusskin, director of the Long Island City Partnership, says balance is the key.

LUSSKIN We’re very happy to have the visitors come to the neighborhood and the hotels to be there. But at the same time, the city needs businesses like concrete companies and bread-makers and elevator repair.

To protect manufacturers, Lusskin thinks more careful planning is a good approach. Some others have called for the city to require special permits from hotels before they are allowed to develop in industrial zones. There’s even talk of an outright. What’s clear, though, is that if the current pattern continues, there will likely be more and more tourists among the trucks on the streets of Long Island City.

Camille von Kaenel, Columbia Radio News.

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