The Wall Street Journal
By Derek Kravitz
Updated April 15, 2016 7:26 p.m. ET
In Queens, the neighborhood of Flushing is seeing developers take an interest in its western side and long-neglected waterfront after pouring money since the financial crisis into its bustling Chinatown.
Flushing West is a so-called brownfield, made up of vacant or underused land where ground or water contamination has halted investment and redevelopment.
With 16,250 residents, many hailing from China, it is also one of the densely populated communities in the borough. The annual median household income is $34,428, compared with $57,001 for the rest of Queens, according to city planning estimates.
The waterfront area boomed at the turn of the 20th century with the completion of the Queensboro Bridge and rail service to Manhattan. Today, it is a mix of rail yards, warehouses and vacant lots.
The 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs altered the 4-mile-long creek bed, and runoff from the Willets Point industrial site and garbage polluted the waterway. It is now slated for rezoning under the affordable-housing plan proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Flushing West, as defined by the city, covers 11 blocks of downtown Flushing, home to dim sum houses, Korean barbecue and a growing number of upscale condominiums, stores and restaurants.
The newer openings include One Fulton Square, a complex that includes the 168-room Hyatt Place Flushing/LaGuardia Airport, luxury apartments and several Asian-themed restaurants and stores.
Leaf Bar & Lounge, dubbed the neighborhood’s first cocktail bar when it opened on the hotel’s rooftop in August, is an informal Asian gastropub that serves Taiwanese-market-inspired food like popcorn chicken and inventive drinks such as the Momotaro, a spring/summer concoction made with scotch, artichoke liqueur, peach shrub, ginger syrup and yuzu juice.
“When you get off the train, it’s like stepping into a different world, into China,” said Leaf owner Todd Leong. “We saw that we could innovate and try something new here and be adventurous.”
Only a few blocks away, on College Point Boulevard, is The Shops at SkyView Center with national retailers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and Old Navy. Sky View Parc, a luxury condo complex on top of the shopping center, is adding at least two more residential towers; it already has 448 units and will add hundreds more over the next several years.
Condos rent for an average of is $3,177 a month and sales average nearly $723,000, although many have been recorded at more than $1 million, according to StreetEasy, a real- estate firm.
And on a formerly city-owned municipal parking lot on Union Street, a mixed-use development called Flushing Commons will have roughly 600 residential units, a 62,000-square-foot YMCA, 500,000 square feet of commercial space and a 1.5-acre town square with a fountain plaza. Construction on the second phase of the project is set to start in 2018.
“China feels a certain connection to Flushing, but at the same time we’re seeing the area turn into a cultural melting pot,” said Helen Lee, executive vice president of F&T Group, which with the Rockefeller Group and AECOM Capital is developing Flushing Commons. “I just met a whole family visiting Flushing from Scandinavia and it’s just incredible how international it’s becoming.”
Transportation: There are many options, including the No. 7 subway line, the Long Island Rail Road and city buses.
Dining: Chinese and other Asian specialties are aplenty. Nan Xiang Dumpling House on Prince Street serves a take on Shanghainese breakfast; Asian Jewels Seafood Restaurant on 39th Avenue has dim sum delivered on traditional carts; and White Bear on Roosevelt Avenue offers spicy wontons.
Parks: Two parks lie on the edges of the neighborhood: The half-acre Bland Playground, at 40th Road between Prince and Main streets near the Flushing Houses, and the half-acre Flushing Greens plaza at Northern Boulevard and Farrington Street.
Schools: The neighborhood is in District 25, which includes a broad swath of north-central Queens. In 2015, 43.2% of students in grades three through eight were deemed proficient on the English Language Arts exam, up from 40.8% two years before. On the math exam, 57.8% of students were deemed proficient in 2015, up from 51.8% in 2013.
The closest schools are P.S. 20 John Bowne, on Barclay Avenue, which serves nearly 1,400 students in prekindergarten through fifth grades. The oldest high school in the city, Flushing High School, is on Union Street and has roughly 1,800 students.
There are also several universal prekindergarten schools nearby, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Day Care Center on Prince Street and the Kon Wah Day School on 38th Avenue.