If you build it, they will come

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“If you build it, they will come” is perhaps the second most common real estate adage after “location, location, location.”

In LIC, it seems to be true – at least since 2001. Once the city rezoned large swaths of land to allow mixed-use (residential and commercial) development and taller buildings – and gave tax abatements – developers and builders began a construction boom that continues today, two economic cycles later. Most of that construction was of purely speculative nature – investors that funded the process broke ground without any guarantees on how much New Yorkers would be willing to pay or that they would embrace the “new” neighborhood. Yet somehow, 11 years later, most of what has been built is occupied, and a small but growing commercial community is thriving from serving the new residents.

The popular belief in the neighborhood – and one certainly boosted by local media – is that LIC is experiencing an unexpected baby boom, with families and children reshaping the area’s character for years to come. Anecdotal evidence: Day care centers are fully booked, P.S. 78 has a waiting list, LIC Kids gym is packed year round and if you walk around Gantry Park on a nice day, you’ll likely see more strollers than bicycles. In just a few years, the Easter egg hunt attendance is said to have gone up from 50 people to 1,000. Even Sunnyside seems to be experiencing a new injection of young families who prefer the greenery of Sunnyside Gardens to shiny new glass condos.

I always welcome opinions of folks I consider wiser or more experienced than me, and the other day I ran into Kris from babieskidsclothestoys.com. When I mentioned to him that I’ve been receiving calls for commercial spaces from dozens of businesses that want to cater to babies and young families, he proposed an interesting theorem: What if this baby boom everyone bought into is more of a baby bump? What if the seemingly endless business opportunities – day care centers, specialty programs, kid’s haircutters, baby stores, etc. – will all open based on a false projection of a continued influx of newborns? What if this is a bubble that will fizzle in a year or two?

If we use the “build it and they’ll come” theory, there may be some concern. None of the new condos or rental buildings coming to market will offer three-bedroom apartments, for example. Small two-bedrooms and one-bedrooms that are being built are not suitable for families, especially those with more than one child. If we don’t have housing that can accommodate more than one kid per family, those who plan on having more kids will be simply forced to move away. Most of the buildings built before 2011 featured a good percentage of three and large two-bedrooms, and there used to be houses available for sale or rent to newcomers. There are few today. Unless developers do something about it, the neighborhood won’t be able to house any more families with kids.

At the same time, all the talk about new children-related services coming to LIC (Tribeca Pediatrics opened up on Vernon Boulevard) and the addition of two city schools and the library, as well as the expansion of the Gantry State Park, will hopefully continue luring families to visit, and stay, in LIC. Back in 2008, I ran into a 70-year sage of Broadway theater, who lives on Upper West Side, at Tournasol restaurant on Vernon Boulevard. Surprised to see her on this side of the water, I asked what brought her here.

“Excellent food and I like the ambiance. We’ve been coming here for years,” she said.

There you have it… if you build it, and it’s good – like a restaurant, school or building, or a neighborhood – people will find it and they will come. Smart business people will do well no matter who moves into the neighborhood, and many of those who simply jumped on the bandwagon will fail. Furthermore, unlike decades past, we now have internet and smart phones, and just as “googling” for the best brisket in the city will lead you to John Brown Smokehouse in LIC – 2012 Brisket King of New York City – perhaps typing in“LIC” will soon yield a lot of “best” and “most” in many categories. As long as we continue to build this neighborhood the right way, people will keep coming, and multiplying, if that’s what they choose to do!