Imagine all the people

THERE is nothing more important than proximity when it comes to exercising. Between inertia and the multitude of distractions in the 21st century, convenience is the key to a successful and thriving Rec Center. Thus when it was pointed out to me that ‘Yes indeed, there is a plan to build a Rec Center in the LIC Waterfront Master Plan,’ I couldn’t help but feel tremendously disappointed in looking at where it’s tentatively slated to be.

Which is on the Lake Vernon site between 44th Rd. and 44th Ave. Not exactly sure where that location is? Well by my reckoning via Google it’s about 500 feet, or nearly two football fields, north of 44th Drive. And while there is no clearly defined demarcation of where the northern border of Hunters Point is,1 as someone who has actually lived here for over a decade, I think the extra-wide 44th Drive is as good a line as any, and I think that many residents on the waterfront would concur.

More importantly, the Rec Center would be at the very northern tip of where residential development would come to a hard end along the waterfront. On the other side of the tentative location is the Con Ed Learning Center and its massive parking lot, followed by what looks to be some kind of power substation replete with smokestacks, the Queensboro Bridge, and then the beginning of Queensbridge Park and the Queensbridge Houses.

Now by my understanding, there is a desire to use the new Rec Center to help connect the people in the Queensbridge Houses with those in Hunters Point. A noble goal and one that I am a staunch advocate for given my strong belief that fitness and sports are a great outlet for unifying people. It’s something that I experience first-hand every summer on the 48th Avenue basketball courts, and would like to see a lot more of, and all year round.

Yet putting up a fantastic Rec Center in a poorly situated location is no guarantee that it will be utilized by the encompassing neighborhood. How many people in LIC take classes at Circus Warehouse currently, or know that it even exists in Hunters Point? Almost all familiarity with it comes from kids and parents attending one-off birthday parties there and not from regular attendance, because for the latter it is not convenient.2

As for trying to attract residents of Queensbridge, the tentative location is over 2000 feet, or 7 football fields, from the southern border along an industrial portion of Vernon Boulevard; and 9 football fields from the midpoint of the housing complex. Therefore it will require the inconvenience (and expense) of shuttle buses to the Rec Center no matter where it is built. Even then there’s no guarantee there will be significant uptake by Queensbridge.

Thus as it stands now I view the proposed Rec Center as the in-house gym and a major amenity for the future residents of the Lake Vernon Towers, plus the possibility of social melding. 3

Sure, the Rec Center will be open for everyone to join, but as proposed it is very isolated. The East River is on the western side, the Con Ed learning facility on the northern side, industrial buildings sprawl out to the east, and the DOE building and TF Cornerstone’s proposed commercial space is directly south.

For the new building’s owners a Rec Center will actually be a boon, as their tenants will probably end up paying that much more in rent to have such an amenity at their doorstep. And of course there will be a lot of future residents actually at the doorstep were a full upzoning to be allowed.

The developers involved in the waterfront proposal have made a massive request in terms of densification in Hunters Point, and they are going to need a lot of public support to fend off the small but vocal minority who by and large are opposed to any private development. Even if the eventual utilization by the Hunters Point community is not viewed as important in terms of getting approval, the optics of trying to pry away a centrally located Rec Center from residents may be what is needed to get this project through. Once confirmed it will be like trying to separate a dog from its bone, but residents won’t own it if they can’t visualize it, it’s that simple.

With community visualization in mind, we have previously made the case for the Rec Center to be built at the southern-most point of the waterfront acreage, and thus as centrally located as possible for all the residents of Hunters Point. That location, 46th Road and 5th Street, better known as the home of Rockaway Brewing Co., has been penciled in as the sight of a new school4. Schools are becoming ubiquitous in LIC – there’s already a recently built one directly across the street and numerous others planned or already functioning sprinkled throughout HP. I imagine that both it’s pending arrival and moving it from that location to another will elicit a big yawn from locals.

So contrast:

‘Hey, Rockaway Brewing is going to be a Rec Center!’

Vs.

‘They’re planning on building a Rec Center up at Lake Vernon’

‘Where’s that?’

‘On Vernon Boulevard just north of the DOE building and south of the Con Ed Facility’

‘Hmm, not exactly sure where you mean, but I didn’t know there was a lake up there. Any bass in it?’

As any real estate expert knows, the three keys to success are location, location, location. Or as Jeff Bezos might rephrase it: logistics, logistics logistics. By either definition, hoofing it north or shuttling south renders the proposed Rec Center site a non-entity for existing residents.

  1. google’s map outline goes up to the Queensboro Bridge and as far east to encompass all of Court Square and Queens Plaza, wikipedia shares an old map that stops just short of Anable Basin, and the reality is it’s not a formally defined section []
  2. and just think, who’s going to want to walk all the way north past 44th Drive to swim laps in the middle of January? Or for that matter, will those in the office buildings just south want to head north for a workout after work if they’ll need to retrace back south to the Vernon Jackson station for their commute? []
  3. Or maybe it’s just the appearance of the latter that really matters? []
  4. Don’t worry, Rockaway will be moved no matter what and will assuredly be given a sweet new home in the process – it’s presence too has gotta be a selling point for tenants []

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