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Flushing in flux

The top five developers behind the transformation of the Queens neighborhood

By Will Parker

On a recent weeknight, three shiny Mercedes slowly eased through a short block in downtown Flushing, the drivers’ eyes patrolling for open parking spots. Hands heavy with shopping bags, passengers streamed in and out of the 7 train station, and a group of college-aged friends made their way to a Michelin Guide-recommended dumpling shop, nestled on a one-story retail strip that now lies between two new high-rises.

This is Flushing in flux: luxury condos, name-brand retail and hotels, and office space are bringing more people — and more real estate speculation — to the area.

“What I like to call the ‘Renaissance of Flushing’ is happening right now,” Richard Siu, the chief investment officer of Flushing-based developer F&T Group, told The Real Deal.

And it’s easy to see why. In terms of new developments, the northern Queens neighborhood known for its tight-knit Chinatown is stacking the streets with large-scale, mixed-use projects.

Whereas Manhattan’s Chinatown is historically known for the close-quarter way of life that has epitomized the popular notion of the American immigrant experience, Flushing, sometimes known as “Falasheng” in Mandarin, constitutes a sizeable middle- to upper-income community, slightly more suburban in character than the Canal Street corridor an island away. The high-rise condo projects coming to market will reflect that spectrum’s upper end.

Nancy Packes, head of new development marketing and consulting firm Nancy Packes Inc., began working with Onex Real Estate Partners and Muss Development on the first phase of luxury condos at Sky View Parc in Flushing back in 2012.

Although those homes were designed with the Asian community in mind (they made up over 90 percent of the buyer’s pool at the onset, Packes said), as Flushing grows, it may not be long before the area is a draw for New York buyers of all stripes. 

Developer Sam Chang is building hotels and condos in the neighborhood.

“It is inevitable that an area that has been kind of an ethnic enclave would morph into an area that is more generally desirable to everyone,” said Packes, “simply because the competition for land and sites is so ferocious.”

Siu also notices a new kind of buyer in the Flushing market: “We are seeing an influx of individuals that are quite frankly getting priced out of Manhattan, or even people that are looking to leave suburbia and looking for a more urban-type lifestyle,” he said.

F&T’s own office occupies the top floor of the company’s Queens Crossing development; 300,000 square feet of retail, office condos, and valet parking. Built in 2007, it could be considered the vanguard of the current mixed-use wave.

Since 2011, plans for more than 4 million square feet of residential, hotel and commercial space have been filed with the Department of Buildings or the New York Attorney General’s office, according to an analysis by TRD.

Those filings include over 4,000 residential units, and over a thousand more units and millions more square feet have already been announced. It won’t be long before those plans are filed with government agencies so that construction and sales can begin.

This month, using the permit filings, TRD looked at the top five developers in Flushing — developers whose projects are instrumental in changing the landscape of this Queens neighborhood.

F&T Group

F&T Group is leading the development pack in Falasheng, filing permits for over 940,000 square feet of projects since 2011 at four buildings.

One of those is One Fulton Square, a 346,000-square-foot, $145 million project including hotel, condo and commercial space, which opened last year. The company has already gone full speed into two other projects. At the Tangram, formerly Two Fulton Square, the developer has plans filed for 362 residential units at two towers with ground-floor retail. Preliminary renderings of the project by Margulies Hoelzli Architects suggested an undulated design with white exteriors, although F&T has since indicated that the design will change. “We’re always trying to push the envelope in design and development,” Siu said.

Meanwhile, the company is teaming up with Rockefeller Group and Aecom Capital at its largest project: The $1 billion Flushing Commons. So far, F&T has filed for a more than 400,000-square-foot residential and commercial building at 37-10 37th Avenue, to include 148 apartments. But the final Flushing Commons project will measure 1.8 million square feet, with roughly 600 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space, including offices, something that F&T has already shown can succeed in Flushing. “When we did Queens Crossing there were no new office buildings in Flushing,” Siu noted.

Sam-Chang

McSam Hotel Group

Sam Chang is known in real estate circles for his budget hotels, which are scattered throughout much of New York City. In some locations, like the Garment District, he has multiple locations on the same block.

Now, he’s taking his development operation to Flushing, where he’s planning both hotels and condos.

“We’re going to a have a 300-room four-star hotel and a 100-room extended-stay hotel,” Chang said, adding that his project at 131-02 40th Road will also include two condo towers. According to publicly filed plans they will each be 15 stories and house 111 units. The entire project will span some 555,000 square feet. That puts Chang at No. 2 on TRD’s ranking.

“The market is hot in Flushing right now,” Chang said, although he couldn’t put his finger on why. “I’ve had this land for 10 years already, so it’s time to develop,”
he added.

Chang bought the site and a neighboring parcel at 40-70 Delong Street for $26 million in 2006. The condos at the site will be marketed to “the middle class,” he said.

Flushing-2George and Chris Xu

Developers, brothers and Chinese immigrants George and Chris Xu have a long history of building together in Queens, mostly under the name C&G Empire Realty.

However, a spokesperson for George Xu indicated to TRD that the former family business has split, with George forming Century Development Group and an affiliated EB-5 regional center, and Chris, also known as Jiashu Xu, operating under United Construction and
Development Group.

Brother Chris and George Xu are develop- ing separately and together in the area.

In Flushing, the pair has filed to construct 488,000 square feet since 2011, placing them third on TRD’s ranking. The brothers have, however, filed plans for over 1 million square feet of residential and mixed-use space in all of Queens through their various enterprises since 2013 alone.

Century is currently planning a 210-key Four Points Sheraton hotel with an additional 100 apartment units at 134-21 35th Avenue. This is the first project for which the firm is raising funds through its own EB-5 arm, the spokesperson said.

Next door, United Construction is seeking to redevelop the site of a building-supplies business at 134-03 35th Avenue, with an uncannily similar 210-key hotel and 134 separate apartments. Sibling rivalry, perhaps?

Onex Real Estate Partners

David Brickman of Onex, which is developing the Sky View Parc project.

Back in 2010, Muss Development hit a financial rough patch and brought Onex Real Estate Partners in to recapitalize its Sky View Parc project. Onex, a division of the Toronto-based Onex Corporation, later bought out Muss’ stake in the project’s residential component.

Packes said in 2012, when she came on board for the first phase — the two-tower, 448-unit luxury condo and shopping center — the developers “were writing on a blank slate” because nothing like it existed in Flushing.

However, the market responded and the next phase, the Grand, will reflect that.

“We built a great product in the first phase, but we were trying to take this to another level from a design standpoint,” said David Brickman, a director at Onex.

Phase two of the project includes three residential towers, two of which are now under construction. The first of those towers, known as Grand One at Sky View Parc, went on the market in May, when a staggering 120 units sold just six hours into a sales event. It’s now 90 percent sold, with closings expected to begin next fall. Grand One and Two bring Onex Real Estate Partners to approximately 450,000 square feet of plans filed since 2011.

In contrast with the first two buildings, the next three towers have glass exteriors, and every unit will have a balcony. Appliances and finishes will also be upgraded. “We knew that in Flushing there was this demand for better, something more akin to what a Manhattan luxury development would have,” Brickman said.

In the first phase, units ranged in price from $350,000 to $1.3 million. In Grand One, prices will top that, ranging from $489,000 to more than $2 million. Many of the same buyers from the first phase are now picking up more units at Grand One, Brickman said, either as investments or as apartments for family members. By the time it’s complete, the entire Sky View Parc complex is expected to contain a gargantuan 3.3 million square feet and approximately 1,200 residential units.

Crown Mansion

Jeffrey Wu (who also goes by the name Myint J. Kyaw) is a partner of Crown Mansion, the group planning a 338,000-square-foot mixed-use development at 134-53 Maple Avenue.

Something of a business mogul, Wu sits on the board of directors of the Long Island-based GTJ REIT, which focuses on commercial properties in the tri-state area. He is also the founder and principal shareholder of United International Bank, the founder of the Hong Kong Supermarket chain of grocery stores, and the CEO of Yifan Communications, an Internet communications company that no longer has significant operations, according to Bloomberg.

In Flushing, Wu has built the 99-unit Victoria Towers, which sits next door to the Crown Mansion site, and where sales have averaged over $1 million a unit, according to real estate listings website StreetEasy.

Partnering with Wu in Crown Mansion is Bo Jin Zhu, another low-profile investor who quietly bought up 10 parcels at a former plastics factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, last year for $48.5 million. Wu and Zhu could not be reached for comment.

The Maple Avenue project is the only Flushing project Crown Mansion has filed since 2011. In addition to 45 apartments, plans call for community and commercial space, including medical offices and three floors of daycare.