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'Outer Borough' Finally Attracts The 'In' Crowd

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'Outer Borough' Finally Attracts The 'In' Crowd

By GAY JERVEY | November 14, 2004

IN the final year of the HBO hit series "Sex and the City," the character Carrie Bradshaw and her Prada-touting friends experienced a number of firsts: Charlotte converted to Judaism and settled into a happy marriage with Harry; Samantha let a man into her heart; and Carrie finally saw the Eiffel Tower and, it appears, snagged Mr. Big - maybe for good. And as for Miranda, she not only married Steve but also did something that at the time seemed even more shocking. Lured by a house with a backyard, high ceilings and a working fireplace, she moved (gasp) to Brooklyn.

When she broke the news, a wide-eyed Carrie nearly tripped over her Manolo Blahniks. Her response: "That is information that I can't handle."

The self-defined hipsters who have always considered Manhattan the center of the universe have gradually incorporated Brooklyn into their map of the world. But Queens?

Now, that would be going too far.

What is it about Queens, a borough that has been home for millions, that brings out the real estate snob in so many upwardly mobile New Yorkers? First of all, there is the very resilient "All In The Family" factor.

"Everybody thinks of Queens as the home of Archie Bunker and not much else," said Michael Carhagna, an independent real estate broker who lives and works in Queens. "For years we have had that stigma. We really have."

Molly Sheridan, a publishing consultant who has lived in Forest Hills for more than 30 years, agreed. "People think of it as being all working class, blue collar - far away and foreign - kind of a no-man's land," she said.

Yet with real estate in Brooklyn and Manhattan so breathtakingly expensive, that image may crumble among the Manhattanites who couldn't find their way to Astoria or Kew Gardens without Mapquest.com.

Like the character Miranda of "Sex in the City," Deborah Knudsen, 44, an advertising executive, made a move in October that would have once been inconceivable to her. With her husband, Eric, 35, a copy manager at Macy's, she exchanged a charming but relatively small - approximately 550 square feet - West Village apartment for a 1,150-square-foot, six-room apartment, complete with a dining room and garden view, in the heart of the historic district in Jackson Heights, Queens.

"People were saying, 'I can't believe that you are moving to Queens,' '' Ms. Knudsen said. " 'I simply can't believe it!' They were very surprised."

James Hill, 33, an architect who moved to Jackson Heights from Brooklyn in 2002 with his wife, Sarah, a designer, knows exactly what Ms. Knudsen is talking about. "When we first moved from Williamsburg to Queens, our friends were saying: 'What! What are you doing?!' " Mr. Hill said. "They really couldn't believe it. They were saying, 'Queens?!' "

Pamela Liebman, the president and chief executive of the Corcoran Group, thinks many Manhattanites have an outdated image of Queens. "In the old days people thought of Queens as the place where your grandmother, but not you, might live,'' she said. "But no more."

"It seems to be the next big thing,'' she added. "Queens has this gritty feel to it in parts, which makes it feel cool. When I go to speaking engagements and people ask what is the next big thing, a lot of speakers are starting to say, 'Queens, Queens, Queens.' "

There are several reasons. For one thing, many renters and buyers alike are finding Manhattan and Brooklyn far too rich for their blood. Consider the following data collected by Mr. Carhagna: the average price per square foot for a co-op in Queens is $250 to $400, versus $500 to $700 in Brooklyn. In Manhattan, according the most recent figures from the Douglas Elliman overview prepared by Miller Samuel Inc., the average price per square foot of a Manhattan apartment is $820, with condos and luxury apartments costing more.

And then there is the sheer convenience, particularly to Midtown Manhattan. "Queens is a tremendous solution for many people," said Jeffrey Silverbush, the owner and president of Century 21 Best in Elmhurst, Queens. "They can have affordable space in a nice, safe neighborhood, with good amenities. And you can be in Manhattan so quickly."

Popular Queens neighborhoods like Astoria, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens are easily accessible by several subway lines. "I have gotten from my house in Forest Hills to Midtown in less than a half hour," Ms. Sheridan said.

Ms. Knudsen, whose office is at 42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas, said: "I leave the house at 8:15 to 8:20 a.m. and am in the office at about five minutes to 9. Recently, I had an evening function to go to in the city. I left it at about 10:30 p.m., jumped on the train and was home in no time at all. There were lots of people on the street near my apartment, and I felt completely safe."

For residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn who can't afford to buy in those boroughs anymore, Queens offers a number of neighborhoods that have the restaurants and night life that might appeal to them - Astoria, Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and increasingly, Long Island City.

"The up-and-coming neighborhood clearly is Long Island City," said Andrew Heiberger, the founder and president of Citi Habitats. "There is definitely a major housing shortage in the New York City area, and anything with close proximity to Manhattan via train or car is going to be very desirable. Long Island City is literally a stone's throw away."

For years, people have been talking about Long Island City as the next big thing, but its time may have finally come. According to Jon McMillan, the director of planning for the Rockrose Development Corporation, recent rezoning laws that allow for development of the Long Island City waterfront - as well as the conversion of Hunters Point warehouses and factories into residential space - have intensified interest in those areas.

Next spring, Rockrose will break ground on seven buildings that will eventually house 3,200 units. "The city has finally gone in there and fixed the zoning in a very, very careful, block-by-block way, so that this neighborhood can start to blossom as a residential neighborhood, and buildings can be converted," Mr. McMillan explained. "Residential housing will gradually replace taxi repair shops."

The changes in neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, he said, have happened in a geographically logical way, and it makes sense for Long Island City to be next.

"There is an evolution of the gentrification of the waterfront areas, moving up from Brooklyn," Mr. McMillan continued. "If you imagine that things started in Brooklyn Heights, moved to Dumbo and then up the river to Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the next stop heading north is Long Island City, which is one stop away from Grand Central on the No. 7 train."

Long Island City has also benefited from the fact that the Museum of Modern Art temporarily relocated there while its Manhattan headquarters were being renovated. "That brought a lot of people out to Queens," said Ms. Liebman of the Corcoran Group. "It drew a lot of attention to the area, and a lot of that buzz has stayed."

In addition, thanks to the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, and the nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, "there is sort of constellation, almost a critical mass, of visual art in Long Island City," Mr. McMillan said.

"You get the artists and sculptors hanging around, opening up studios and living in that area," he said. "That is exactly the kind of thing you want for the development and creation of a new neighborhood."

Furthermore, Mr. McMillan said, Long Island City "offers spectacular views of Midtown Manhattan - the United Nations, the Chrysler Building."

"When you are in Long Island City, you can almost feel as if you can reach out and touch the buildings," he said. "You have this psychological connection to Manhattan, and that is important."

Ms. Liebman predicted that "two years from now people are going to say, 'Wow, I wish I had bought in Long Island City.' "

"And I don't know that they are going to call it Queens any more,'' she added. "I think they will probably end up breaking up the neighborhoods. They will say 'Oh, I'm in Astoria,' or 'I'm in Jackson Heights,' or 'I'm in Long Island City.' Just like people started to talk about Brooklyn. The idea of 'Hey, I went to Dumbo' or 'Hey, I went to Williamsburg.' And each of those Queens neighborhoods will develop their own personality and persona, much like what has happened in Brooklyn. There is no doubt about it, Queens has become hip."

Finally.

"Rodney Dangerfield grew up in Queens," noted Herb De Cordova, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman. "Since he recently passed away, I think it would be appropriate to say that Queens is finally getting the respect that it deserves."

Brokers are getting a wider range of inquiries about apartments for sale. Recently, Megan Hoffman, a broker with the Corcoran Group, listed a 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment in a prewar building in the Jackson Heights garden district for $400,000.

"I was inundated with calls, many from Manhattan," Ms. Hoffman said. "People are starting to be drawn to Queens and, in this instance, to Jackson Heights because of not only the affordable space, but also the fact that it is such a thriving, diverse community. If you are walking down the street, you can hear four different languages all at once. You will see somebody carrying a Herm

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Great article! It's about time Queens gets its rightful due in NYC. Comparied to other boroughs, it's proximity to Midtown Manhattan is unmatched and it's diversity is incredible. I predict it will experience the next renaissance, similar to Brooklyn.

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My grandfather grew up in Queens so I'm sure he's like to see it reemerge as a real estate hot spot.

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I think standard operating procedure is to post a link to the story.

But I liked the article. I'd love to find a relatively cheap place in one of the "other" 4 boroughs someday soon.

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Jackson Heights is a great neighborhood. It has amazing restaurants, some beautiful buildings, and easy access to Manhattan via the E/F trains. Too bad the yuppies are taking over, they will ruin it in no time.

Of course the article doesn

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