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THE WOODHAVEN BEAT
Rising high above Long Island City, Skyline Tower officially became Queens tallest building when it topped off in 2019. However, this new development is impressive for reasons beyond its height.
Developed by Queens-based United Construction & Development Group, Skyline Tower aims to enhance both the skyline and community of Western Queens.
“For us, we were always trying to do a building that was pushing the boundaries,” said William Xu, vice president of United Construction & Development Group. “That’s why we wanted to build the tallest building in Queens.”
In addition to height, United Construction & Development Group was focused on giving people the opportunity to invest in Long Island City and the greater Queens community.
“There have been a lot of other buildings going up in LIC, but a lot of those buildings are rentals only,” Xu explained. “Up until this point there was not a building of this scale that was a condo building where people could actually buy units.
“Long Island City does get a lot of people from out of the borough who are transplants, but they always live in these rentals and leave, which is making this area a lot like Manhattan,” he added. “We believe that if you want a community to grow, you have to allow people to buy into the area. It was a big risk, but we had faith that people would make LIC their home.”
Designed by Hill West Architects and Whitehall Interiors, and located at 23-15 44th Drive, Skyline Tower rises 67 stories. The building’s 802 condominium units have been on sale since 2018, including studios, one-bedroom, two-bedrooms, three-bedrooms, and penthouse residences running from $500,000 to $4 million.
The mixed-use development includes commercial space on the ground floor and sublevels, as well as a bevy of amenities for residents. These include a 75-foot lap pool, cedar-planked sauna, pet spa, children’s playroom, and business fitness centers.
However, Skyline Tower’s biggest selling point is its transit-rich location. Situated directly above the Court Square subway station, which serves the E, G, M, and 7 trains, the building offers direct access to the underground station, making it effortless for residents to commute into Manhattan, Brooklyn, or elsewhere in Queens.
Building above a subway station presents a unique set of challenges, and required United Construction & Development Group to work alongside the MTA. Together, the company and agency enhanced portions of the station and installed a new, ADA-compliant glass elevator, transforming Court Square into one of the most accessible stations in the city.
“We always want to not only come into the community, but also enhance it,” Xu said. “The cost of the subway station alone was almost $16 million, but it’s very important to understand that what makes a project successful is the neighborhood. Investing into the neighborhood is, in a way, investing into your property.”
United Construction & Development Group has worked on a number of projects throughout Queens, including Parkside Tower in Flushing, Fairfield Inn by Marriott near LaGuardia Airport, and the forthcoming Justice Avenue Tower in Elmhurst.
None of these projects come close to rivalling the scope of Skyline Tower, yet they taught United Construction & Development Group important lessons about investing in and strengthening local communities.
“We’ve been developers all over Queens since the beginning of our company,” explained Xu, who grew up in Bayside and Little Neck. “Because of that we know the areas and the neighborhoods and we know this is what we can do best.”
When United Construction & Development Group originally bought the lot where Skyline Tower now stands, they were bidding against massive companies from Manhattan and beyond. While he may never be sure for certain, Xu believes they won the bid because of their reputation and dedication to being a hometown developer.
“I’m not sure if we were the highest or the lowest bid, but I think we were chosen because we were from Queens and knew these neighborhoods,” he said. “Where better to develop than in your own backyard, where you know it better than anywhere else? Queens is our home and that’s where we feel we do the best.”
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A three-month program administered by the Department of Finance (DOF) will allow businesses that have been hit with city fines to apply for up to a 75 percent reduction in unpaid judgments.
The FAIRER (Fine and Interest Reduction Enabling Recovery) Program, authorized by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will enable New Yorkers with eligible Environmental Control Board (ECB) judgments to see their unpaid fines reduced by up to 75 percent.
ECB judgments can be issued by multiple city agencies like the departments of Sanitation, Buildings, and Fire. Violations can include dirty sidewalks, littering, failure to remove snow and ice, posters where they are not permitted, and failure to comply with the building code.
But as many businesses are trying to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program aims to bring much-needed relief.
“True to its name, the FAIRER Program offers a fair resolution for outstanding judgment debt that will aid ongoing recovery efforts,” said DOF Commissioner Sherif Soliman. “It is a chance to clear the slate and start fresh, and we hope many New Yorkers will take advantage of the program.”
According to a November 2020 DOF report, the pandemic had a “large adverse effect” on ECB collections last year. Enforcement of debt collection was halted in the early months of the pandemic, and as a result DOF saw a 15.7 percent decrease in collections from the previous year.
Depending on when violations went into judgment and whether the respondent attended a hearing held by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, business owners can save up to 75 percent on the base fine and interest.
If there is no default penalty and the judgment was entered before March 7, 2020, customers can receive a 25 percent reduction on the base fine and interest.
If there is no default penalty and the judgment was entered on or after March 7, 2020, and prior to June 23, 2021, a 75 percent reduction is possible.
If the judgment contains a default penalty for not attending a hearing, the default penalty and interest can be forgiven.
“New York City was hit hard by the COVID-19 Pandemic,” said Assemblymember David Weprin in a statement. “The FAIRER Program will ease some of the financial burden on New Yorkers by reducing the cost of their Environmental Control Board fines.”
The FAIRER program runs from September 20 through December 20. To participate in the program, eligible reduced ECB judgments must be paid in full no later than December 20.
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The Queens Chamber of Commerce hosted its 110th annual Building Awards and Gala at the TWA Hotel in JFK airport last week, recognizing various development projects throughout the borough for achievements in construction, restoration, interior design, and more.
“I have the best job in the world, it really is my calling,” said chamber president and CEO Thomas Grech. “As a membership organization, 2020 was a terrible year. However, it was our board and our members who stepped up during that difficult time.”
Grech thanked a number of elected officials who helped secure relief money at the federal, local, and city level.
“As we move through the pandemic, private public partnerships will continue to be extremely crucial,” Borough President Donovan Richards said. “There are those who said we should go back to normal after the pandemic, but we know normal was never good enough for Queens county.”
Both Grech and Richards acknowledged the federal infrastructure bill currently stalled in the Senate, expressing hope the bill will pass and fund construction and repair projects for the borough’s roads, trains, and airports.
Carlo Scissura, head of the New York Building Congress, offered the keynote address at this year’s gala. Although he is a native Brooklyn, Scissura discussed Queens’ history of dreaming big and encouraged the borough’s public and private leaders to continue that tradition.
“You have everything in Queens, and you have a future that I think the people in the city and the state need to learn from,” Scissura said. “When people say New York is the center of the world, it’s because of a borough like Queens.
“Think about the vision people have in Queens,” he continued. “One-hundred years ago, Jackson Heights was fields and now it’s home to amazing apartment complexes. We transformed a valley of ashes into a park that hosted two World’s Fairs. Just look at the building we are in right now. It was the pinnacle of the aviation age and made you feel like a king or queen. All of this was built right here in Queens.”
In addition to the keynote address, a number of guest speakers helped distribute awards to the night’s recipients, including Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato and representatives from Maspeth Federal Savings Bank, the gala’s platinum sponsor.
This year’s gala event sold beyond capacity, another sign of recovery as Queens continues to build and grow after the pandemic.
“It’s great to see everyone in person,” said Thomas Santucci, chair of the Chamber’s board. “Nothing beats an event like this.”