When Home Is More Like a Cruise Ship

November 15, 2008 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

Lyle Pinder and Rachel Hoskins took their first tentative salsa steps not far from their apartment on the windswept, once-industrial riverbank of Long Island City, Queens. 

Lyle Pinder and Rachel Hoskins, roommates at EastCoast, learned salsa steps in a class offered to bring residents together.

Grills and dining areas on the rooftop deck are among the amenities at the EastCoast complex on the Queens waterfront.

But they were not exploring the gritty neighborhood, where they recently joined what was once a trickle of urban pioneers. They just took the elevator from their apartment to the plush gym-and-pool complex in their building, one of the row of glass towers that has gone up along the waterfront, for a free class included in their rent.

The pair — who, like many of their neighbors, are in their 20s and new to New York — became roommates via Craigslist and still use their Ohio and Maryland cellphone numbers. Trying to get the hang of the basic step at the dance class, they switched partners, dancing with the neighbors they had just met, Rémie and Oliver Christ and Tessa Orlyk. (Ms. Orlyk’s partner, Benjamin Hill, excused himself halfway through. “I’ve got a quiche in the oven,” he explained.)

Later, they could play billiards in the lounge, try out the “Lord of the Rings” pinball machine or watch “Nightmare on Elm Street” at Movie Night in the screening room or head to a party — all of it organized by Matthew Kohn, a kind of cruise director for the building, with the lofty title lifestyle manager.

A decade ago, the first pioneers to Long Island City’s new towers did the slow work of community-building themselves: They left their doors open to meet neighbors and explored the working-class commercial strip.

Jake Atwood, who moved into the subsidized Citylights co-op in 1996 and runs QueensWest.com, a neighborhood Web site, remembers how the residents of the first condo, the Gantry, organized Friday-night dinners at Cassino, an old-school Italian restaurant a few blocks inland on Vernon Boulevard, and earned the building the nickname “the dorm.”

But now, developers, who expect 29,000 residents in buildings recently completed or under construction, leave nothing to chance. They want a soft landing for a new set of newcomers, especially renters who may be less interested in putting down roots in pre-gentrification Queens than in having everything at their fingertips when they get home.

The Rockrose Development Corporation, which owns EastCoast, the complex where Mr. Pinder and Ms. Hoskins live, has tried to create an insta-community, bringing in a gourmet grocery, a liquor store and a Duane Reade, and planning for a school in the area — not to mention its efforts as a social facilitator.

“It’s like the Lido Deck on the Love Boat,” said Sofia Estevez, senior vice president of marketing for Rockrose. Traditionally, she joked, the last thing landlords wanted was to have tenants get together: They might organize!

But now, buildings are selling not just an apartment but a social life. Step out of the Vernon Boulevard station on the No. 7 train — much advertised by developers for being one stop from Grand Central — and one of the first things you see is an EastCoast poster. Instead of an apartment, it shows a young blond woman against the Queens waterfront’s glittering view of Manhattan. (“Stylish. Sexy. Energetic,” declares the development’s multimedia Web site, flashing similar pictures to a techno beat.)

Rockrose has contracted out its den-mother functions to American Leisure, a company founded by Steve Kass, who came up with the concept after organizing pool parties while working as a lifeguard at a Coney Island development in the 1960s. American Leisure’s motto is “Living the life!” and it provides not just what Mr. Kass calls “hardware” — his highest-end package includes the AquaGrotto, a pool and sauna with a built-in waterfall — but also “software”: the social programs and the people who organize them.

The company has contracts in Battery Park City and the Trump buildings on the West Side, Mr. Kass said, but one of its biggest growth areas is formerly industrial sections of Downtown Brooklyn, the Williamsburg waterfront and Jersey City.

Mr. Kass’s newest hardware is what he calls experiential showers: In one, “you can choose to be in a summer thunderstorm in Colorado. It starts out with the sound of thunder, the flashes of lightning, the smell of ozone,” he said. The soft shower builds into a storm, then winds down.

EastCoast’s residents make do with a simpler version: a three-lane pool overlooking a terrace landscaped with decorative grasses and barbecue grills. Rents in the complex start at $2,050 for a studio and $2,600 for a one-bedroom apartment.

On Vernon Boulevard, business owners are hoping the amenities will not keep the new residents from venturing out.

“They’re like in South Beach somewhere, except it’s Queens,” said Chris Gonzalez, a real estate agent who grew up in Bayside.

Ms. Hoskins and Mr. Pinder say they do go out on Vernon. And Jimmy Powers, whose tin-ceilinged, dark-wood Italian restaurant, Masso, shares the boulevard with unfancy pizza places, is optimistic.

“I don’t think that when people get all dressed up for the night, they want to just go downstairs in their building,” he said. “They want to go out for a walk.”

By Anne Barnard

New York Times

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Entry filed under: Go Coastal, Queens. Tags: , , , , .

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