TF Cornerstone looks at ‘new model’ for urban development
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 11, 2018 | 879 views | 0 0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Real estate company TF Cornerstone believes it’s at the forefront of a new model for developing mixed-use urban communities.

The developer, which was selected by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to build out two city-owned lots on 44th Drive in Long Island City, intends to create not just housing, but a mix of manufacturing, technology and cultural uses in their massive project.

“The thinking has evolved, it shouldn’t just be residential, it should be more mixed-use,” said Jon McMillan, TF Cornerstone’s director of planning. “Let’s make Long Island City a place for jobs and more of a commercial center. That’s the essence of this project.

“This is an experiment,” he added. “The city should be given credit for trying to do something new, and we should be getting credit for getting involved in it.”

The 1.5 million-square-foot project would create 1,000 units of housing on the two parcels, 750 of which would be market-rate and 250 of which would be affordable. McMillan said the market-rate units are the “economic engine that pays for everything else.”

But he emphasized the other non-residential components that would come to Long Island City.

The waterfront area by the Anable Basin would get 100,000 square feet of light industry and manufacturing. TF Cornerstone is partnering with the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC), a nonprofit that develops affordable industrial space, which would operate half of the space.

Traditionally, GMDC works companies in industries like fashion, furniture and high-end custom sets, which would create high-paying jobs.

“This is one of the areas the city has identified as a growing jobs sector in New York,” he said. “These are the jobs the city has decided they want to support.”

Another 400,000 square feet of the project will be for office space, including 130,000 square feet dedicated to incubators and accelerators for startups. TF Cornerstone is working with Coalition For Queens (C4Q), which will not only run the incubator, but also spearhead workforce development and career training for the local community.

“These are all varying ways to support new companies, help them develop their ideas and grow,” McMillan said. “Give them the support they need to emerge and stay in the community.”

C4Q will reach out to residents from the nearby Queensbridge Houses to train and place them for jobs in these companies.

Other community benefits include a 600-seat intermediate school, a 25,000-square-foot cultural center with dance studios, and one acre of open space.

As part of the 99-year lease deal with the city, TF Cornerstone will also relocate and construct a new $60,000 facility for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and spend $40 million on environmental remediation.

McMillan said the whole premise of the project is to shift away from just building residential “bedroom communities,” and instead create jobs and opportunities for the local community.

“People can walk across the street from their apartment to their job here in Long Island City,” he said. “That’s the right public policy when you’re trying to address things like overcrowded subways.

“Everyone realizes it’s also about jobs. In order to afford your apartment, you need a job,” McMillan added. “It’s a more complicated argument than just making the affordable housing affordable, you have to make sure people have jobs.”

He believes this model of building mixed-use for housing and jobs will be “more and more common” in the future.

“By introducing a mix of uses, it disperses the usage of the infrastructure that’s there,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do, to have both people live and work on these sites, rather than just living.”

The proposal has received criticism from local residents, organizations and elected officials. At a rally last month, residents slammed the project for bringing overdevelopment to the neighborhood, and specifically using city-owned land to do it.

Longtime plastics company Plaxall is also proposing a large-scale project on the Anable Basin that would bring nearly 5,000 units of housing to the area. Like the TF Cornerstone proposal, Plaxall’s project would also set aside space for light industrial uses, space for cultural organizations, new open space and a school for the community.

Residents have said these two separate projects would have a tremendous impact on the Long Island City community in the long term.

McMillan said he was surprised the community wasn’t more supportive of their project, considering all of the job-creation aspects. He argued that there has been a lot of comprehensive planning for the waterfront, including Queens West and Hunters Point South.

“The Plaxall project and our project are just a logical continuation to the north of this waterfront development,” he said. “The open space network is all going to link in and work together.”

Another concern residents have brought up is sustainability, specifically that Anable Basin is a flood zone. McMillan said TF Cornerstone plans to “lift up” the propoerty, including streets and sewers, to mitigate flood issues.

TF Cornerstone will spend the rest of 2018 introducing the project to the community, McMillan said. Starting next year, they will undergo the public land use review process, which means they will need approval from the community board, borough president and most importantly, the City Council, to rezone the lots.

If all goes according to their plan, the first site, the industrial space, would open by 2022.

A spokesperson for Borough President Melinda Katz said their office will reserve comment until it hosts a land use hearing during the public review process.

In a phone interview with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, he said the project is too big, has relatively little affordable housing built into it, and doesn’t have enough green space. He said he would not support the current plan.

“It doesn’t really incorporate enough of what people in Long Island City really want,” Van Bramer said. “Clearly, they need to go back to the drawing board and incorporate a lot of what I think is important to people.”

What people in Long Island City see, Van Bramer said, is giant market-rate towers going up with little to no infrastructure attached to them.

“We’re far apart here in terms of vision,” he said. “I think that’s a serious problem.”

Additionally, Van Bramer said because the two lots are city-owned land, the community “has a right to demand a lot” more than it would on privately owned land.

“To propose 25 percent of units be affordable on publicly owned land, that’s insulting,” he said. “Twenty-five percent is the bare minimum on privately owned land.”

When asked about the light manufacturing, incubator and accelerator spaces included in the project, Van Bramer said while those are all good things, they are not what the community has been “crying out for.”

Instead, Van Bramer said it is City Planning, EDC and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen’s vision of the neighborhood. They dictated to TF Cornerstone what they wanted on the city-owned site, he said.

“The developer was responsive to that call from the administration,” Van Bramer said. “Take it back and come up with a plan that’s responsive to the community’s vision.”
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