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Futures exchange settles into LIC quarters

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The view from the New York Board of Trade’s emergency quarters in Long Island City is not like anything its members had ever seen from their longtime home at the World Trade Center.

The temporary facility sits behind the cobblestone surface of 43rd Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets, across from the wide parking lot of a yellow cab company and alongside the elevated trestles of the No. 7 train. Any number of industrial loft-style buildings are visible in all directions, but conspicuously absent is anything resembling modern office space — save the building it occupies at 23-10 43rd Ave.

For many of the traders — accustomed to rubbing elbows all day with colleagues in Manhattan’s downtown financial district — the move has been a sort of culture shock.

“This is in the middle of nowhere,” Jeff Poyta, a coffee trader on the exchange, said as he stood on the sidewalk of 43rd Avenue last Thursday. “It’s in an industrial area, when it’s a huge financial market that needs to be in a busy business district.”

The New York Board of Trade is one of the largest futures exchanges in the country, where contracts are traded for coffee, sugar, cocoa, cotton, orange juice.

Six days after the terrorist attacks destroyed its trading floor in 4 World Trade Center, the board reopened on an abbreviated trading schedule in the cramped Long Island City emergency quarters. Although the space had been set up to allow business to continue under such circumstances, no one had ever envisioned how extreme the circumstances would prove to be.

“We were expecting an electrical outage for a day or two,” said board spokesman Guy Taylor. “We never expected the World Trade Center would be destroyed by terrorists.”

The New York Board of Trade was the only market in the world to have a backup trading floor, which was set up as a precautionary measure following the 1993 car bombing that damaged the bottom of the World Trade Center. Although it sat for five years “collecting dust,” as many of the exchange’s members used to say, the $300,000 facility ultimately saved millions by allowing the market to reopen so quickly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“There was some criticism inside the organization about whether we needed this or not,” Taylor said.

Although that criticism was put to rest by the board’s fast turnaround in the wake of disaster, new complaints have emerged as traders struggle to make a living amid less-than-ideal conditions in the Long Island City space.

Where the World Trade Center offered 12,500 square feet of space and 13 pits for trading, the LIC facility crams two trading pits into 3,000 square feet on the first story of the small office building owned by Comdisco, an emergency services company.

Deals are brokered by traders who crowd on the carpeted maroon-colored steps of the two pits set up on the trading floor, their collective shouts creating a chaotic din in a space many complain is louder and more cramped than the original location.

The loss of space has prompted major changes in the way business is done. Where each commodity would be traded for five hours a day in Manhattan, they are now traded on schedules of an hour and a half each.

“The shortened hours make for lousy business,” Poyta said.

But in many ways Long Island City is the perfect location for such a business. A mixed-use neighborhood with a long history in manufacturing, much of the area was recently rezoned by the City Council to encourage its development into the city’s next major business district.

But the neighborhood has its problems. Although Long Island City is a major hub of mass transportation — where as many as six subway lines converge within only a few blocks of each other — its location is inconvenient for many traders from New Jersey, Staten Island and Brooklyn accustomed to a short hop into Lower Manhattan.

Although the board has already expanded its Long Island City facilities and will add more pits to increase trading hours, exchange officials are planning to return to Manhattan as soon as possible. Negotiations are already under way to move in with the New York Mercantile Exchange.

“We do want to go back to Manhattan because it’s centrally located,” Taylor said.

Although many traders are eagerly awaiting the board’s return to Manhattan but skeptical that the move will come about within six months as anticipated, most are simply relieved to be trading at all after the catastrophe.

“Generally, everyone — members and staff — were pleased that we just had a place to go to keep doing business,” Taylor said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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