Big development (with bridge to Roosevelt Island) pitched for LIC

big-development-bridge-roosevelt-island-pitched-lic
Ongoing construction at the Roosevelt Island site of the future Cornell Tech campus, with the East River and Long Island City visible in the background. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Tweet Share on Facebook Print

A group of investors led by Rudolph Giuliani's former chief of staff is proposing a multimillion-square-foot development near the Queens waterfront — a mixed-use project that would include a pedestrian bridge connecting Long Island City to Roosevelt Island, POLITICO New York has learned.

Three sources briefed on the plan described it as the brainchild of Bruce Teitelbaum, who has quietly been presenting it to people in recent months.

Teitelbaum hopes to build a mostly residential tower comprising at least one million square feet on a vacant lot north of 44th Drive, along the north side of the Queensboro Bridge. The site, at 44-02 Vernon Boulevard, is currently owned by Vernon Realty Holding, L.L.C. according to public records; it is zoned for residential use and takes up 128,332 square feet on one lot and 84,338 square feet on another adjoining lot.

But Teitelbaum is likely to apply for a rezoning, and possibly try to purchase an adjacent lot owned by the city, to expand the project's footprint. The more ambitious plan would entail a host of other amenities, including open space, affordable housing and possibly a public school and a hotel, the sources said.

MORE ON POLITICO

ADVERTISEMENT

The bridge is envisioned as something akin to the High Line — a path for pedestrians and cyclists with views of Manhattan's skyline and space to sit and unwind. On the Roosevelt Island side it would land near the site of Cornell Tech, the applied sciences school that will dominate the south end of the island.

"Part of the presentation includes renderings for an iconic bridge that connects the new, under-development campus on Roosevelt Island to Queens, which would hopefully attract more economic activity," one source said.

"We are intrigued by the idea of connecting the campus and Roosevelt Island to Queens," said Meghan French, a spokeswoman for Cornell Tech. "It's exciting that the campus is sparking ideas like this. We expect to be an active player in Queens economic development and look forward to learning more and discussing the proposal with other stakeholders."

In his pitches, Teitelbaum has relied on the appeal of connecting the increasingly popular waterfront area of Queens to the new graduate school, the sources said.

South of the vacant site in Queens is a 90,400-square-foot parcel owned by the city Department of Education, where a warehouse-style building stands. D.O.E. uses some of the space, and Teitelbaum, according to two people he briefed, hopes to buy the land to extend his project.

Teitelbaum is in talks with SHoP Architects, which has designed many projects throughout the city, such as the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.

"It's an extremely exciting idea that would be good for Long Island City, Roosevelt Island and the entire city," said Josh Gold, political director of the Hotel Trades Council. He learned of the project because of the possibility a hotel would be included on the land. "New York City needs to be able to take on big projects like this. We're working with the developer to get on board and I would expect broad support from labor."

In addition to seizing on the population growth anticipated when Cornell Tech opens on the island in 2017, Teitelbaum is also banking on the growing popularity of Long Island City as a place to live and work. It is also one of the neighborhoods Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to rezone to increase affordable housing throughout the city.

Teitelbaum declined to comment for this story.

He was described by one of the three sources as the lead investor for the plan, although the ownership of the primary lot in question is not as clear.

A spokesman for developer Durst Organization said it owns the note on the property, but declined to cite a value.

Public records trace Vernon Realty Holding to both Lakewood, N.J. as well as embattled property owner Baruch Singer.

In 2012, the Daily News reported the land, formerly home to an oil refinery, was in foreclosure before an affiliate of Durst, Durst Fetner Residential, bought the note for $32 million.

At that point Baruch Singer and Marshall Weisman were partial owners of the property.

Singer has been mired in controversy in the past, including violations on properties he has owned and, more recently, ties to former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who was indicted earlier this year on federal corruption charges.

A source familiar with Teitelbaum's plan said Singer has no role in it and no longer owns any part of the site.