For this month’s installment of #10YearsofPublicWorks, Celeste Frye sat down with Elizabeth Lusskin, President of the Long Island City Partnership (LICP), to look back on Public Works Partners’ work with the nonprofit to conduct a business census and build out a comprehensive plan to support the mixed-use neighborhood.
When Elizabeth Lusskin joined the Long Island City Partnership, the neighborhood development organization for Long Island City (LIC), in 2013, there was not a cohesive understanding of the unique character of LIC or the importance it played in the health and vitality of the region. Long an industrial neighborhood, by the time Lusskin joined the organization the neighborhood had already begun to experience rapid residential development and a growing commercial core. “LIC was starting to attract attention, but people didn’t really understand the neighborhood’s identity,” Lusskin said. “We wanted to get ahead of the plans that were starting to come together, to put a stake in the ground and establish a vision for the future. We also wanted to help folks understand why investing in and supporting LIC was essential to the health and success of the region.”
The Long Island City Partnership engaged Public Works Partners to develop a plan to systematically validate what the Partnership already knew about the LIC community: that it was a unique and thriving ecosystem that is vital to the economy of the city and region. Lusskin said that early in her time at LICP, “we could take people on a tour and go to great places and they would think that each one was a unicorn. We wanted to get information on this very large area to establish how much great stuff was going on, what businesses needed, and validate that the mixed use character was meaningful, rather than just delightful.” This was no small task given the complexity and size of the neighborhood.
Together, Public Works Partners and Long Island City Partnership decided to create a Phase 1 report, focused on validating and explaining existing conditions in the area, with a special focus on businesses in the area. This was in part informed by a tight budget and a desire to make progress quickly in order to have a chance at shaping the conversation around LIC. Lusskin and the Partnership also recognized the importance of respecting their historic role in the community as a business organization. The plan we settled on—a business census, focus groups, and the creation of an informed and thoughtful narrative of the neighborhood—ultimately reached over 9,000 community members. The outreach and subsequent comprehensive plan cemented the Partnership’s relationship with community members and helped to establish a shared vision for the future.
That shared vision is still in play today. Lusskin explained that the Partnership “took the strategic plan as a guide for what we should invest our time and energy in.” Since the release of the plan in 2014, the Partnership has pursued grants to make recommendations from the plan a reality. LIC Arts Connection, a multi-site community arts initiative, grew out of a recommendation from the study to bring community and culture together. Similarly, the Partnership has conducted subsequent studies to identify sectors that have high payoffs and special needs, such as Life Sciences, as recommended in the study. LICP has also worked with the community to find ways to attract these sectors while continuing to support existing businesses.
However, the most notable shift may not be what is happening within LIC, but the shift in how people talk about the area, Lusskin said. This was a central goal of LICP when they engaged Public Works back in 2013. Lusskin pointed to the notorious Amazon HQ2 as a prime example of this new perspective. “Whether you agree with the Amazon bid or not,” Lusskin said, “it was a success for LICP in many ways because the city and state took up the flag for LIC that we put forward. What the City and State told Amazon LIC was is actually what LIC is. That was a huge transformation for us.”
Long Island City is truly a unique place—”a city within a city,” as Lusskin likes to say. “When you talk to companies about why they like LIC, they say it’s because it is a mixed-use neighborhood where you don’t have to work to attract talent.” Lusskin said. “Our current Mix.Meet.Make marketing campaign came out of the plan we developed. One of the areas we identified was marketing; we went out and hired marketers and really built that out. I think LIC is becoming a shorthand for LIC-type neighborhoods, like Brooklyn did for a different type of area.”
This quality has also helped the neighborhood weather the pandemic better than many other commercial centers. While the residential population has fluctuated and restaurants have struggled, Lusskin said that manufacturing has come back surprisingly strong. “In many ways, we’re doing better than midtown,” she said, “because it’s a mixed-use area.”