June 21, 2021 By Christina Santucci
A development team’s plan to build a major film production studio, backed by actor Robert De Niro, received approval from Astoria’s Community Board 1 last week.
Plans call for the construction of a $400 million complex – called Wildflower Studios – at 35-15 19th Ave., between Steinway & Sons Piano Factory and Luyster Creeka short entrance branching off from the East River to the top of Astoria.
The project developers – Wildflower Ltd., De Niro, his son Raphael De Niro (a Douglas Elliman broker) and Jane Rosenthal – are looking several permits, authorizations and certificationsincluding those that would negate height and setback requirements under current site zoning regulations.
Members of Community Board 1 voted 35 to 1 in favor of the project – with one abstention – at the monthly board meeting Encounter Tuesday. The next stage of the proposal is a review by the President of Queens Borough.
The developers propose to build a seven-story, 495,000 square foot studio that would include 11 sound stages as well as production support spaces like carpentry shops, locker rooms and offices.
The development would have a total of 715,000 gross square feet, including parking, according to a environmental assessment statement filed this month.
“We are particularly excited about the potential of this project taking place in New York City, a city that we love and care about very much,” Raphael De Niro told board members.
“Especially in light of what we’ve all been through with the pandemic over the past 18 months, we believe the timing couldn’t be better than now,” he continued.
The project would also provide approximately 30,600 square feet of public open space along the Luyster Creek shoreline and an additional 4,200 square feet on 19th Avenue.
The Wildflower team offered to work with the community to create a plan to improve the degraded area where 19th Avenue adjoins Luyster – aka Steinway – Creek and to coordinate with city and state agencies and the Dept. of sanitation, which moves a garage to a nearby site.
“We believe that as a team we can make a significant improvement down the street,” said Rachel Scall of the firm Greenberg Traurig.
Several CB1 members expressed support for the plan, and others asked about security and parking plans for the studio.
Representatives for the developers said the proposal includes 310 parking spaces, and Raphael De Niro said the site would have a network of security cameras as well as hired staff.
“When you talk about a particular studio, there’s a lot of sensitivities around piracy and certain other privacy issues, so it has to be a very secure building for people to feel comfortable filming content and this is going to extend to the public waterfront area as well,” he said.
Raphael De Niro said the project would create a total of around 1,000 new jobs and likely increase business in the neighborhood.
“We expect the studio to 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 replied that he was not ready to answer that question at the meeting.
“We haven’t even considered staffing at this point because we don’t know what we’re building yet,” he said. “I think it’s a valid concern and question and I will speak to all of my partners about it immediately.”
He said, however, developers are looking for ways to hire local residents and businesses.