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Flushing office building slated for 2003 completion

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Despite an influx of immigrants, the opening of several large retail stores and grand plans to make downtown Flushing the commercial center of Queens, not a single office building has been constructed in the area in the last 15 years.

But that will soon change.

F&T International Group is currently working on the construction of a six-story office building to be known as the Prince Center. The building that will stand next to the Sheraton LaGuardia East on Prince Street off 39th Avenue is slated to be completed in about a year.

The building currently is a mass of construction beams. But a glass exterior soon will be installed, said Wellington Chen, a consultant with F&T’s associate group, TDC Development and Construction.

“It’s a deference to the Flushing Library,” said Chen, speaking of the glass building located two blocks from the Prince Center.

Chen said the design of the center differs dramatically from most of the architecture downtown.

“So much of the construction is vertical chop-shops, and we’re doing a horizontal band,” Chen explained.

Retail space will take up the bottom two floors of the building, the fifth floor will serve as a community facility, and the remaining three floors will be offices.

Just as many buildings in the city do not assign the number “13” to a floor, the Prince Center will not have a designated fourth floor. In Chinese culture, the number four represents death.

The building is somewhat of a risk for F&T. Despite changes to Flushing’s zoning in 1998, the group needed a parking variance for the property.

“People don’t want to take a year of their lives and see if they can get a variance,” said Chen.

The building’s plans went before Community Board 7 in September 2000. F&T and the owners of the property, Two Corners Inc., needed 206 parking spots due to zoning regulations. But because of a high water table, the company could not dig down deep enough to build extra lower levels for the necessary parking. Instead, the plans provided for only 126 spots on two levels of parking by placing hydraulic lifts to stack some cars on top of others.

After discussion, the board voted to approve the variance 32-4.

In her race for City Council, Democrat Ethel Chen accused now Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) of ethics violations for voting in favor of the project. The council candidate contended that Liu, a member of Community Board 7, should have recused himself from the vote since he had taken $7,000 in contributions from the group over a three-year period.

F&T International designed the building with the community in mind, Chen said. The building will have signs in both English and Chinese, 19 medallions commemorating Flushing’s history, and nighttime security lighting.

“The new building is going to be a distinctive looking building,” said Marilyn Bitterman, district manager of Community Board 7. “Wellington always had the community in mind.”

The Prince Center is part of a larger TDC vision of redeveloping downtown in what was to be known as eSquare, creating a town center full of shopping, hotels, theater and grand architecture just west of Main Street.

But the overall vision is floundering. While the Flushing Mall has been completed, TDC has dropped its plans to develop the former Queens County Savings Bank site on Main Street into a hotel. The group was facing community opposition, Chen said, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 killed the chance of investment in the project.

“The minute you buy the Queens County Savings Bank, good Lord, you’re the enemy of the town!” said Chen.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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