Real Estate 2001: Neighborhood Profiles

Who’s moving to Astoria? The answer used to be Greeks, Italians, Yugoslavians, Arabs, Moroccans, Colombians, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. “They don’t come anymore,” says Steve Valiotis, the owner of Alma Realty. “Astoria now gets the overflow from Manhattan.” L.I.C., on the other hand, is a story of dreams deferred. In the past few years, dot-com mania drove the conversion of industrial buildings into office space, and illegal live-work lofts quietly multiplied, with artists moving over to live near the expanded P.S. 1 art museum, which was revamped two years ago and now draws crowds for events like the summer D.J. series. But the late-eighties gambit of placing a huge glass Citicorp skyscraper over the E-train stop didn’t make it any less of a low-rise warehouseland. Somehow, “Cyber City” and “NewHo” never materialized.

STREET SCENE: The Sopranos and Sex and the City were born at L.I.C.’s Silvercup Studios, and if studio head Stuart Suna has his way, Queens will become Hollywood East. Silvercup nearly doubled in size in 1999 and plans to expand even more. “Every day you see somebody,” says Ted Kouris, owner of Metropolis International Realty. “You see Woody Allen, you see Al Pacino, you see Robert DeNiro. Most people don’t recognize them because they’re all immigrants. Pacino could walk around and no one would recognize him.”

CREATURE COMFORTS: Omonia Cafe and Cafe Kolonaki are still palpably Greek, and at the new Felfela Cafe you’ll find long rows of Arab men smoking electric-blue hookahs. While there are some new establishments, like Mezzo Mezzo and Trattoria L’incontro, until the newcomers from across the river begin to shop and play where they sleep, Astoria will preserve its sharp ethnic flavors. The pulse of life in L.I.C. remains faint—there are a few cafés, galleries, and restaurants—but overall, “services have not kept pace with the changes in the market,” says Jeffrey A. Bernstein, at Insignia/ESG. “It’s kind of a cart-and-horse problem: What comes first?”

WHAT’S NEW: Architecturally, Astoria notably lacks grace, and the new homes at 31st Avenue and 29th Street—with their ersatz balusters, roof terraces, and Italian granite staircases—are no exception. But where else can you land a one-bedroom penthouse for $1,500 a month? Queens West, the 74-acre waterfront development across from the United Nations, lay fallow for almost two decades until the mammoth—if still somewhat isolated—42-story Citylights condo slab finally opened. Prices range from $90,000 for a studio to $200,000 for a two-bedroom.

PROGNOSIS: Will the softening economy stop the eastward migration? More Manhattanites will get to check out the area when moma temporarily moves its collections to the old Swingline factory in L.I.C. next year. “It’s ten minutes away, and it’s just sitting there,” says Bernstein, who remains optimistic. “New York City is very unusual in that the river has been such an impediment to development.” And five years from now? Think London, Berlin, Paris: A river runs through each and every one.

Real Estate 2001: Neighborhood Profiles