LONG ISLAND CITY — The three giant signs that mark the Queens waterfront have become as much a part of the city’s scenery as Manhattan’s high-rises or East River bridges.
Seen by tens of thousands of drivers every day, the signs for Pepsi, IDCNY and Silvercup Studios are an advertiser’s dream, and now JetBlue wants to join them.
The airline moved its headquarters from Forest Hills to a historic Brewster building in Queens Plaza earlier this month, and is seeking a zoning change to allow it to erect an enormous L.E.D. “JetBlue” sign of the rooftop of its building. The sign would be blue during the day and bright white at night.
The zoning variance, which JetBlue applied for in February 2011, would open the door for other new signs to be placed on the top of non-residential buildings in a 14-block section of Long Island City between 23rd Street and the Sunnyside Yards. The change has been approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council’s zoning and franchises subcommittee. It is expected to be approved by the full City Council on Monday.
“JetBlue’s arrival in the Dutch Kills neighborhood of Long Island City is further proof of the rebirth of Queens Plaza,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the area. “Long Island City has seen a tremendous influx of businesses, city agencies as well as cultural institutions and organizations over the recent years. All of these additions have drawn more attention toward this fantastic area.
"Long Island City has a history of iconic signs, including those of Silver Cup, Pepsi and IDCNY. I expect that the JetBlue sign will also become iconic, being a visible reminder that Queens Plaza is reborn.”
The airline says it wants its neon to be as memorable as the other eye-catching signs in the area, and has designed it to be in line with their look: Individually cut letters mounted on an open frame structure with each letter formed out of a steel box with an acrylic face. The tallest letter will be 25 feet high.
After hearing concerns from local community boards in Long Island City, the City Council is expected to restrict new signs to prevent overcrowding, said Joseph Conley, chairman of community board 2.
Rooftop neons would be limited to companies that occupy a minimum of 20% of the total building area or at least 50,000 square feet.
“We just didn’t want Queens Plaza to become 42nd Street, with many advertising billboards that have no relationship to the property,” said Conley.
Rooftop signs had been allowed in the area until 2001, when citywide zoning text changes were adopted that restricted the height of new signs in manufacturing districts to 40 feet above curb level, according to a City Planning Commission report on the proposed zone change.
With 1,000 employees in Long Island City, JetBlue has become one of the largest employers in the neighborhood and says it intends to be active in the community.
“Our crewmembers will frequent local restaurants and stores and join others in driving the development of more options for the neighborhood,” said Allison Steinberg, a JetBlue spokesperson.
Local businesses have embraced JetBlue. Parking lots are full of the cars of JetBlue employees and eateries say they have seen a spike in clientele since the airline’s arrival.
Elisavet Vasiliou, who for the last eight years has served food from a truck in front of 27-01 Queens Plaza North — now the airline’s home — said her business has picked up since they moved in.
“Since JetBlue moved here, I sell twice as many egg sandwiches. Gyros and Philly cheesesteaks are more popular, too,” she said. She added with a laugh that she had received hats and T-shirts with JetBlue’s logo from her new customers.
Others however, have complained that traffic in the area has increased — and not for the better.
“It has always been bad, but now it is even worse,” said Frank Pijuan, a 21 year-old security guard who has worked in the area for two years.
But Pijuan said he still welcomes the new neighbor.
“But in the long run, JetBlue will improve Long Island City," he said. "There will be more commercial activity, more hotels will be built, more people will come."