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New greenstreet brightens space in front of MetLife

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Less than two months after MetLife moved into its new home on Queens Plaza, the neighborhood has already begun to blossom thanks to three newly planted traffic islands directly outside the company’s front door.

Then-Borough President Claire Shulman joined Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and local officials in the lobby of MetLife’s renovated loft building to dedicate the green spaces last Thursday, braving the cold only briefly to a cut a ribbon amid the newly planted shrubs.

“Like the companies they are meant to welcome, these plants will bring new life to Queens Plaza,” Stern said.

The project was paid for by a $100,000 grant from the city Economic Development Corporation and $70,000 from the Queens borough president.

The dedication left Stern only one greenstreet shy of meeting his goal of planting 2001 by the end of the year — a milestone he reached the following day by dedicating a greenstreet at Christopher Park in Manhattan’s West Village.

Greenstreets is a citywide urban beautification program designed to convert paved traffic islands into green spaces.

Queens is home to nearly twice as many greenstreets as any other borough — a total of 702, compared to 398 in the Bronx and 254 in Manhattan.

“We bring the park to you, as opposed to you going to the park,” said Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy, who attributed the borough’s large number of greenstreets to the abundance of traffic islands.

Last Thursday’s ceremony also served as a welcoming to MetLife, which began moving into its office at 27-01 Queens Plaza North in early November. The company expects to house as many as 2,000 employees in Long Island City once a 16-story addition is built onto the facility, a renovated loft structure that once housed the manufacturer of Rolls Royce automobiles.

The move into Queens came following months of negotiations with Shulman and the EDC after the company announced it would be leasing much of its headquarters at 1 Madison Ave. in Manhattan to Credit Suisse First Boston.

“She made us feel like we were coming home,” MetLife Vice President Marge Kelly said of Shulman.

The project replaced the concrete surfaces of three traffic islands — which separate Queens Plaza North from the entrance to the Queensboro Bridge — with small gardens of shrubbery and brick pathways.

The plants are specially chosen for their ability to endure conditions in a heavy traffic area.

“Like the city they are hearty — tough urban plants,” Stern said after listing some of the species planted outside.

For Shulman, the appreciation came on a more aesthetic level.

“I haven’t got the vaguest notion of what they are, but they look good,” she said.

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

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