Tag Archives: The Chocolate Factory Theater

Q&A: Modern Spaces CEO explains real estate in LIC


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Donna Dotan Photography Inc.

Eric Benaim founded real estate firm Modern Spaces in Long Island City in 2008, and within a handful of years led the explosion of residential interest in the neighborhood. Over the years, he expanded the company from LIC to Astoria, Manhattan and Brooklyn, and recently, Modern Spaces announced the launching of its commercial and investment property division, tapping into another side of the market.

In a question-and-answer session with The Courier, Benaim explained the current status of real estate in Long Island City and the transformation of the neighborhood.

Courier: How did you get inspired to start working in Long Island City?

Benaim: I guess I was always a Queens boy, and I started focusing in LIC back in 2005. I was a broker focusing mostly in Manhattan and at the time there were pretty much no brokers in the neighborhood over here, so I figured I would try to make this my niche. Just walking around you see the views of Manhattan, you see there’s a lot of potential over here and I stuck with it, and obviously it paid off. The neighborhood has changed dramatically since 2005.

Courier: Did you really think it [the transformation of LIC] would happen so quickly?

Benaim: No. Literally, from my window I see cranes everywhere, and it’s just crazy to see my skyline changing every day.

Courier: What is the real estate market in LIC like now?

Benaim: There is a lot of development. There was not that many condos being developed over the last couple of years, but condos are about to come back strong. We are seeing a lot of condo projects that are going to be coming online probably by first and second quarter of next year. And in regards to rental projects, a lot developers are doing stuff now whereas before it was predominately TF Cornerstone and Rockrose. now you are seeing a lot of big developers coming into the neighborhood that were never here before.

Courier: Why do you think there is a switch from rentals to condos?

Benaim: Because land prices have gone up a lot and when land prices go up so much it just doesn’t make sense to do a rental because the return on your investment does not really pay out. So it just makes more sense financially to do a condo rather than a rental. Rental projects that are coming along, these are projects sites that were acquired probably a year or more ago when land prices were a little more affordable than they are now.

Courier: Is LIC already a successful live, work and play community?

Benaim: I think [live, work, and play] has been established here. I remember when I first started showing clients around the neighborhood, there really wasn’t anything here. Not even a supermarket. Now we have three supermarkets already, and a fourth is opening up at the LINC, the Rockrose project in Court Square. There are a whole lot of restaurants— you know, restaurants open up here every week and now we are seeing more and more boutiques and stores opening up. Pretty much everything you need is here now. And regarding play, so we do have the bars and the night life now and LIC is a huge cultural destination. We have the LIC Arts Open, the Taste of LIC, MoMA PS1, the Chocolate Factory Theater and the LIC Flea. So there’s really a lot to do as well.

Courier: What has spurred you to go into the commercial side?

Benaim: We’ve done a little commercial these past few years, mostly like retail leasing. But a lot of our clients, whether it’s landlords who we’re doing their rentals for in walk-ups or if it’s a developer who we’re marketing their building or working with them, they never really came to us in the past, because they knew us as being residential brokers. So it was kind of like business that we lost out on. And it just seemed like the right time. Queens as a whole is in the spotlight right now and there’s not really a commercial company that can offer commercial services but still insight in the residential market.

Courier: What is the next neighborhood that has potential?

Benaim: We do see a lot of potential in Astoria, and other areas like Woodside, Sunnyside, Flushing and areas like Rego Park, where we just opened up a building called The Rego Modern. We rented 10 in the first open house [at The Rego Modern] and for high prices also, which they weren’t used to seeing. So that just shows that there is a lot of interest in Queens. Being a Queens boy myself it’s just nice to see that Queens is getting the spotlight that Brooklyn had stolen from us.

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9th Annual Taste of LIC offers items from over 50 local restaurants


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Dominick Totino Photography

Foodies made their way to the Long Island City waterfront to a get a taste of what the popular western Queens neighborhood has to offer.

The Chocolate Factory Theater presented the Ninth Annual Taste of LIC, a community-wide festival highlighting Long Island City’s culinary and cultural accomplishments, Tuesday at Gantry Plaza State Park.

FOR MORE PHOTOS CLICK HERE

This year’s celebration featured food and beverage tastings from 50 restaurants and auction and raffle prizes courtesy of 100 local Long Island City businesses. The event also featured a special performance by over 30 Sunnyside/Woodside Girl Scouts choreographed by Madeline Best.


Executive Director of The Chocolate Factory Theater Sheila Lewandowski and Borough President Melinda Katz

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer served as Master of Ceremonies and “chocolate lover honored guests” included Borough President Melinda Katz, state Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.

All of the event’s proceeds go toward The Chocolate Factory’s 2014-2015 season of dance, theater, music and multimedia performances.

 

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Weekend bus trial to expand service along Vernon Boulevard


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

The western Queens waterfront will soon get a taste of extended bus service.

The Q103 bus line, which connects Astoria and Long Island City via Vernon Boulevard, will begin offering service to riders on weekends starting in June, according to the MTA.

The weekend schedule will serve as a trial program for the transit agency to receive comments from the community at an MTA public hearing to be scheduled at a later date. After the public hearing, a decision will be made to keep the service or not, the MTA said. It was not determined how long the trial program would run.

“At long last, weekend service on the Q103 bus line is in sight,” said State Sen. Michael Gianaris, who has been calling for the extra service on the bus line since 2011. “The need for more public transportation in our area will only continue to grow, especially on weekends, as more people flock to our waterfront to visit our restaurants, parks and cultural institutions.”

The weekend service will run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and, in addition, the Q103 will also extend its weekday service hours until 9 p.m., instead of 7:30 p.m. The travel path and bus stops will not be affected, according to the MTA.

“The expansion of service will not only benefit the increasing amount of riders but it will also give our growing cultural institutions that ability to generate more traffic to their venues,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.

Local leaders and business owners see the need to expand the Q103’s service as crucial to the growing neighborhoods, with the increase of new residential towers coming into the areas bringing more people.

According to officials, the Q103 ridership has been increasing in the past years, rising from 558 riders per day in 2011 to about 790 in 2014.

“The Q103 service is a vital link for the cultural organizations of western Queens,” said Jenny Dixon, director of The Noguchi Museum. “It enables visitors to go from The Noguchi Museum and Socrates Sculpture Park in the north to SculptureCenter, MoMA PS1, Dorsky Gallery and the Chocolate Factory to the south.”

 

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MTA town hall to address 7 train shutdowns


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

The Long Island City community plans to express its rage at the MTA for the lack of local subway service.

A town hall meeting for locals to decry the last three weekends of No. 7 train suspensions is scheduled for Thursday to go over the details of the service disruption, expected to last for 19 more weekends.

Local elected officials, who asked the MTA to set the meeting up, and MTA NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco are expected to hear feedback from community members.

“I really thought the community should have the same access and same right to get the briefing and be able to ask their own questions,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said. “I want the folks to be able to share with the MTA how they feel about this and why it is so harmful to their business and everyday lives.”

Senator Michael Gianaris said the MTA does not realize Long Island City has become a destination. The community has attempted to be more reasonable with the agency, but without success.

“It’s nice to have a dialogue, but a dialogue without action is not that helpful,” Gianaris said. “I hope this time is different. We’re going to keep their feet to the fire.”

Through July 21, there will be 13 weekend suspensions. Those dates are finalized, the MTA said, but there are also nine tentative weekend shutdowns scheduled for August through November.

The suspensions are expected to be in effect from 11:45 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza. On some weekends, there will also be reduced or express-only service between 74th Street-Broadway and Queensboro Plaza.

Ideas for transportation alternatives during the weekend disruptions, such as the shuttle bus from Vernon Boulevard through the Queens Midtown Tunnel into the city, will also be brought up.

Sheila Lewandowski, Long Island City resident and owner of The Chocolate Factory Theater, believes such a meeting should be done before the disruptions began. However, she hopes the MTA will take what is said at the meeting and put it to good use.

“I think it’s important that the MTA remembers that it’s a public service and that they need to hear from their customers. I don’t feel like we get much opportunities for that to happen,” Lewandowski said. “What I want is for them to be more accessible to the very people that use the system because I feel like that’s what’s going to drive better service and change.”

The town hall meeting is open to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m. at P.S./I.S. 78 at 46-08 Fifth St.

 

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LIC demands better communication over G train suspensions


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ File Photo

The Long Island City community is concerned a new string of subway shutdowns will bring more problems to residents and business owners.

The MTA announced the G subway line, which connects Brooklyn and Queens, will be shut down for five weeks, including weekdays and weekends, starting July 28, though full details of the closure are still being finalized.

Service will also be suspended between Nassau Avenue and Court Square.

Although the transit agency said there will be no scheduled suspensions on the No. 7 and L subway lines during the five weeks, Long Island City residents and business owners are concerned about the inconveniences the shutdowns will bring.

“It’s one thing after another. We just have to throw up our hands and ask what’s next from the MTA,” Senator Michael Gianaris said. “They make these decisions without asking the community for its input.”

The closures are due to Sandy-related repairs, which involve track, structural, signal and electrical component repairs and replacement work, the MTA said. The work was scheduled during this period because it is when the G train has the lowest ridership.

Sheila Lewandowski, co-founder and executive director of The Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, said more commuters are using the line and she hopes the MTA will take the time to listen to their ideas for alternatives before July.

“There’s more and more people traveling within the other boroughs,” Lewandowski said. “It should not just be a talk down decision. There has to be communication. They need to be listening to their communities more.”

 

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No. 7 train service to be suspended in LIC for five weekends this fall


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

File photo

The number seven is proving to be an unlucky number for Long Island City.

Once again, the No. 7 train will not run in the area for multiple weekends, starting next month.

For the October 12-13, October 19-20, October 26-27, November 9-10 and November 23-24 weekends, there will be no service on the subway line between the Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza stations from 12:01 a.m. on Saturday to 5 a.m. on Monday, according to the MTA.

During these weekends, there will be a free shuttle running during between the Vernon-Jackson and Queensboro Plaza stops. The MTA is also increasing Astoria line service during the shutdowns.

But the alternative service isn’t enough for residents and business owners who say they’ve suffered through too many No. 7 train weekend shutdowns.

There will also be weekend suspensions in early 2014, but no dates have been set yet, said an MTA spokesperson.

In early 2013, the train was suspended between the same stations for 13 weekends in a row, and five weekends in fall 2012.  But there have been No. 7 line suspensions in the area on a regular basis for well over 10 years, according to Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer.

The continuing shutdowns are so the MTA can do track, tunnel and other maintenance in the Steinway Tunnel, which connects Queens and Manhattan.

According to the MTA, “Service changes, including the weekend suspension of service between Queens and Manhattan, are being planned as the project is scheduled to be completed in 2016.”

The shutdowns not only mean extra commute time, but also a financial hit to local businesses.

Shelia Lewandowski, executive director and founder of The Chocolate Factory Theater, spoke to The Courier earlier this year, before the 13-weekend shut down. At the time, she said she feared artists would have a difficult time getting her Long Island City theatre company and attendance would drop.

She was right.

“It was a difficult January,” said Lewandowski.

Van Bramer said the MTA hasn’t been very responsive to other requests, including offering a bus shuttle between Hunters Point and Midtown Manhattan, minimizing the number of consecutive weekend closures and not suspending service in the winter.

 

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LIC, Hunters Point get $65G to clean up streets


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photos by Angy Altamirano

The streets of Long Island City and Hunters Point are getting cleaner.

On July 31, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer announced $65,000 to expand The Doe Fund’s street cleaning initiative to Hunters Point and Long Island City. The streets involved in the program are along Vernon Boulevard from 50th to 45th Avenue, and 11th Street from 50th to 45th Avenue.

“The cleanliness of the streets is one of the biggest concerns, one of the most frequent issues that we hear about here in the neighborhood,” said Van Bramer. “We want the streets of Hunters Point and Long Island City to be cleaner, we want them to be as clean as possible.”

Under this initiative, Doe Fund workers will be on the streets for three days a week, six hours each day. The workers will sweep the sidewalks from the property lines to the curb and gutters, remove and replace trash bags, clean out cigarette butts and other garbage from the cracks in the sidewalk, remove posters and graffiti from fire hydrants, lights poles and mailboxes, and also straighten newspaper distribution boxes at intersections.

“This is just the beginning, we are opened to expanding the program as we did with Woodside this year,” said Van Bramer. “First we want to see if it works and how well it works.”

Last year, Van Bramer allocated $31,000 to The Doe Fund for a street cleaning program in Woodside that placed a maintenance team on streets along Roosevelt Avenue from 51st to 61st Street, 61st Street from Roosevelt to 39th Avenue, and Woodside Avenue from 58th to 60th Street.

The program will now expand the Woodside initiative along Roosevelt Avenue up to 64th Street.

“I’m fully confident that, as we have in numerous neighborhoods across the city and now in Woodside, we’ll be able to bring these really wonderful and beautiful streets into the Long Island City and Hunters Point area,” said Ray Damm, director of The Doe Fund’s community improvement project.

According to Sheila Lewandowki, executive director of The Chocolate Factory Theater and member of Community Board 2, many residents have voiced their concerns of dirt and dust from construction. She said The Doe Fund will help residents feel safer and cleaner.

“The community board will hear fewer complaints because of the great work of The Doe Fund,” said Lewandowski.

 

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