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Queens Modern

A gallery at P.S. 1.  

Although institutions are attracting most of the press attention, Miller is one of three gallery owners in P.S.1's immediate vicinity. In January, the Dorsky family opened a gallery in a sleek building designed to hold two additional art spaces. A rotating array of international curators will mount group shows downstairs, while the family runs its secondary art business upstairs. Eugene Binder (who spends half his time in another remote art capital, Marfa, Texas) shows local and Lone Star artists in a third-floor space close to the piers; he's been there for seven years, relying on the intrepidity of loyal clients.

The art boom could even inaugurate a migration of designers from the meatpacking district. Tucker Robbins, known for his rough-hewn furniture referencing Asian, African, and Latin American indigenous crafts, opened a 20,000-square-foot showroom and workshop two blocks from MOMA this spring. He rented it on only his second trip to LIC -- the first was to the Noguchi Museum. "I was terrified," he confides, proudly showing off the Manhattan skyline from the party-ready rooftop of his building -- he's planning a happening for MOMA's opening weekend. "But now all my friends are lusting after this exuberance of space."

The arts, however, are only one element of Long Island City's future. The business and real-estate communities, also just across the Queensboro Bridge in midtown, have had their eye on the low-rise area around the Citicorp tower for years. Last July, a 37-square-block area around Queens Plaza was rezoned to promote mixed-use development and allow for the construction of more skyscrapers, and developers quickly snapped up available lots.

Even after September 11, the plans have continued. MetLife has already moved 900 workers to offices in the Brewster Building and will, after the construction of a twelve-story tower (due to be completed in October 2003), add 600 more. Recently, the Arete Group received the go-ahead to build 4 million square feet of office space on the site of a municipal garage as well as a space across Jackson Avenue. The Department of City Planning has already received funds to improve lighting and signage and create better bike and pedestrian routes through the area. "The gateway to Queens needs an image," says planner Penny Lee.

Not surprisingly, new housing in the area is primarily aimed at midtown-Manhattan workers, not artists. The Avalon Riverview recently joined the Citylights Building along the southern waterfront. Rockrose, the development company that is in the process of acquiring the rights to the Pepsi-Cola property, plans to erect seven residential buildings on the site. It will break ground this winter and hopes to complete its first tower within eighteen months. Rockrose also has its eye on built-up areas closer to the Citicorp Building, envisioning renovated loft-style apartments aimed at the downtown, rather than the midtown, market.

"A chic set of people were already going there, even before MOMA and the SculptureCenter," says Rockrose director of planning Jon McMillan. "You're going to have pioneers who struggle a little to buy groceries, but already along Vernon Boulevard the nature of the retail is changing. You have fewer tire-fix-it shops and more coffee shops and cafés."

For some longtime residents, the prospect of change is unsettling, whether in the form of office workers or gallerygoers. Increased traffic brings higher rents; old ethnic communities begin to disperse. "There is an art community here, but it is not an artist neighborhood," says installation artist Javier Tellez, who likes the fact that he can eat at Five-Star Punjabi with the taxi drivers or play chess with local Filipinos at the neighborhood park. "I could never live in Williamsburg, where you go to the supermarket and everyone is an artist."

Although Tellez's rent -- $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment-slash-studio -- is regulated, other artists are already feeling the pinch. Lucy Fradkin and Arthur Simms (she's a twenty-year resident, he's an eleven-year resident) once shared a studio on top of the Eagle Electric plant overlooking the courthouse. When the factory was sold last year, likely for an office development, they were kicked out, and Fradkin has been forced into a 200-square-foot shared studio, for which she is paying the going rate of $2 per square foot.

They've begun the search for the next artists' neighborhood. Where? They aren't telling.