A group of developers says it can build a new neighborhood hub with workspaces and public plazas on the 28-acre Long Island City site in New York that is home to thermoformer Plaxall Inc. and a location once targeted and then abandoned by Amazon.
The developers will have to win over a skeptical neighborhood that fears any rezoning plan, similar to that in the case of Amazon, will displace residents.
Against that backdrop, the coalition of private developers detailed its goals in seeking a rezoning for the site through a report released June 30. The group, called YourLIC, launched last year at the City Council's urging.
"We've heard the need for job creation, particularly in a part of Long Island City adjacent to one of the largest public housing communities in the country," said Eleonora Bershadskaya, a senior associate at TF Cornerstone. "We've heard the need for abundant public open space. And we've heard again and again that this needs to be a 24/7 vibrant place."
TF Cornerstone previously was set to develop two city-owned parcels for Amazon. It is now helping lead the YourLIC process. Plaxall, which owns several acres in the Anable Basin development site, is a member of the coalition.
Plaxall, a maker of packaging for medical and food products, is now run by the third generation of the Pfohl family.
Developers MAG Partners and Simon Baron are guiding the effort as well.
The group hopes to pursue a rezoning of the 28-acre area by next year, allowing for up to 12 million square feet of construction for commercial space, with at least half of which would be office or nonresidential use, such as a workforce development center. About 7 acres would be reserved for public space, including a new half-acre plaza on the waterfront.
In June, a Western Queens community group called the Justice for All Coalition wrote to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a leading Amazon critic, asking him to publicly oppose any rezoning of the site.
"This type of luxury mixed-use development in former manufacturing zones does not provide good quality jobs to those who need them most — in this case, residents of Queensbridge houses, just blocks away," the group's letter reads.
The report responds to some of those concerns by offering examples of recent major developments, such as Boston's Seaport Square and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that focused on commercial development and increased employment.
"These examples show some of the best practices and the things that can be improved in driving equitable development in Long Island City," said Rebecca Karp, CEO of Karp Strategies and author of the report.
Amazon's efforts to launch a second headquarters in the neighborhood proved Long Island City could be a destination for employers, Bershadskaya said. Despite recent gains in the office sectors for Brooklyn and Queens, Manhattan still holds 82 percent of the city's corporate jobs, according to a March study by the Center for an Urban Future.
Developers expect the demand for office space in Queens to grow — even if there are concerns about the current market with companies operating remotely.
"We are looking at a 15-year horizon here," Bershadskaya said.
The outreach process has helped win some support in the community. A group of four tenant association leaders in Queens wrote in a Gotham Gazette op-ed that Queens "can't afford to squander yet another opportunity to create jobs and to deliver progress."
But others say the city needs a planning process that operates independently of property developers.
"In terms of developing our neighborhoods — where we live, work and play — the process should begin with a genuine assessment of what the community needs," said Kristen Hackett, an executive committee member with the Justice for All Coalition. "It should be led by the community, who rely on this place for their well-being."
The process for rezoning, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, is on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.