June 21, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A development team’s plan to build a large film production studio—backed by actor Robert De Niro—got the approval of Astoria’s Community Board 1 last week.
The plans call for a $400 million complex – called Wildflower Studios – to be built at 35-15 19th Ave., between the Steinway & Sons Piano Factory and Luyster Creek, a short inlet branching off the East River into the top of Astoria.
The project’s developers – Wildflower Ltd., De Niro, his son Raphael De Niro (a Douglas Elliman broker), and Jane Rosenthal – are seeking several permits, authorizations and certifications, including ones that would waive the height and setback requirements under the site’s current zoning regulations.
Community Board 1 members voted 35-1 in favor of the project – with one abstention – during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday. The next step for the proposal is a review by the Queens Borough President.
The developers are proposing to build a 495,000 square foot, seven-story studio that would include 11 sound stages as well as production support spaces like carpentry shops, dressing rooms and office spaces.
The development would have a total of 715,000 gross square feet, including parking, according to an environmental assessment statement filed this month.
“We are particularly excited about the potential of this project happening in New York City, which is a city that we love and care a lot about,” Raphael De Niro told board members.
“Especially in light of what we have all experienced with the pandemic over the last 18 months, we feel that the timing could not be better than now,” he continued.
The project would also provide about 30,600 square feet of public open space along the Luyster Creek shoreline and another 4,200 square feet on 19th Avenue.
The Wildflower team offered to work with the community to create a plan to improve the blighted area where 19th Avenue abuts Luyster – aka Steinway – Creek and coordinate with city and state agencies and the Sanitation Department, which is moving a garage to a nearby site.
“We believe that as a team we can make a significant improvement to the street end,” said Rachel Scall from the firm Greenberg Traurig.
Several CB1 members expressed support for the plan, and others asked questions about plans for security and parking for the studio.
Representatives for developers said that proposal includes 310 parking spaces, and Raphael De Niro said that site would have a network of security cameras as well as hired personnel.
“When you are talking about a studio in particular, there are a lot of sensitivities around piracy and certain other privacy concerns, so this has to be a very secure building in order for people to feel comfortable shooting content and that is going to extend to the waterfront public area as well,” he said.
Raphael De Niro said that the project would create a total of about 1,000 new jobs and likely increase neighborhood business.
“We expect that the studio will have a ripple effect on the community, bringing people to the area to support local restaurants, businesses and the hospitality industry,” he said.
Member Diana Limongi asked if janitorial and security positions would also be union jobs, and Raphael De Niro responded that he was not prepared to answer that question during the meeting.
“We have not even contemplated any type of staffing at this point because we don’t know what we are building yet,” he said. “I think it is a valid concern and question and will address it with all of my partners immediately.”
He did say, however, that the developers were seeking ways to hire local residents and firms.