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David Brause of Brause Realty, which owns BridgePlaza TechCenter, says he talks to dotcom tenants who are considering the same kind of move. "Some are saying, 'Why not just grow the expansion space in Long Island City, where's it's just one subway stop away anyway?' " Brause says. Some smaller firms such as film editors and new-media companies are thinking of moving out of Manhattan altogether.
And there's still good money to be made in accommodating back-office divisions. Delias. com, an e-tailer specializing in the youth market, moved its customer-service call center to Long Island City, even as it holds on to its frontline office in Manhattan. If Delias.com were starting today, "Long Island City would be an exciting alternative like the lower West Village was four years ago for us, and for the same reasons," president Evan Guillemin says. "We'd take a hard look. Besides, no one is funding a start-up to see it all paid out in rent."
Brause notes that, although the ambitious tech-centered redevelopment might ultimately extend a finger of Midtown Manhattan across the East River to Long Island City, "artists are the precursors to development. This is the Tribeca of 10 years ago."
Along with the MOMA move and Silvercup Studios, the neighborhood boasts the equally prestigious Kaufman Astoria Studio, the American Museum of the Moving Image, the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Garden, P.S.1 (one of the largest contemporary art centers in the world), Socrates Sculpture Park, the outdoor Phun Factory graffiti-art museum, and the Center for Holographic Arts. But Long Island City didn't sop up artists in residence like Williamsburg, because its economy never faltered enough to leave huge lofts barren. There just wasn't much vacant to gentrify.
The odd mix of Long Island City's cultured Jekyll and its carnal Hyde sometimes throws off balance outsiders like Amtrak, which is based in Philadelphia. Amtrak spokeswoman Karen Dunn says the rise of a hipster atmosphere around Queens Plaza could draw industry and investment in. "If this other, artistic personality takes over and people have something really worth going to, it would turn out then that there could be a need for a new facility," she says.
Meanwhile, some veterans of Long Island City have already lost faith and slipped quietly away. In April, Andrea Electronics, an audio technologies company, left for the greener pastures of Melville, Long Island.
"Andrea had been in [Long Island City] since its creation in 1934 and needed to move to a more up-to-date facility. The Melville headquarters was specifically designed by Andrea's executives to accommodate the company's needs while allowing for expansion if necessary," says spokeswoman Jean Mulry. "To my knowledge we were never offered any incentives. And as for moving into a revamped building, it was never even considered. We were excited to become part of the growing technology community on Long Island."
Bohemia's not for everyone.