Thanks to Joe Conte, someone whom I haven’t spoken to since the Lighthouse days, for introducing me (electronically) to Brandon Palanker from Renaissance Downtowns; one of the four developers that submitted an RFQ to Nassau County for the Hub project. We had a very spirited phone conversation Wednesday afternoon that started with Brandon telling me “We’re all Long Islanders. No pun intended.”
Yes, the Renaissance Downtowns group ARE Long Islanders even though they have developed more than 80 projects throughout the Northeast. Mr. Palanker is one of those Islander fans that wax nostalgic about Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier hanging out in a Nassau County diner in the glory days. He’d like the locals to have memories like that with the new Islanders. Sure, he understands that things are different. This is not the Dynasty team, they are struggling, but they are STILL Long Island’s ONLY major professional sports team and he’d like to keep them here.
Renaissance (in conjunction with UrbanAmerica) is the master developer for the Village of Hempstead, which yes, is much different from the Town of Hempstead. I got that lesson again today. But their “Renew Hempstead” project is less than a mile to the Nassau hub. Therein lays a certain synergy: A revitalized downtown Hempstead area within walking distance of the Coliseum. While we spoke, his enthusiasm for the possibilities became infectious.
There are 3,500 residential units approved for the Renew Hempstead project which is slated to break ground in early 2013. If you have driven through Hempstead in the last few years, you know how it has changed. Hempstead once housed some of the biggest and most elite department stores, the most sought after doctors and even recording studios all fed by the major transit system it surrounded. But nothing stays the same and Hempstead became economically devastated as its once successful storefronts became vacant.
Can it be turned around? Can this area so close to everything the Island has to offer, including transportation to Manhattan, bring in the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings and those all important businesses again? Donald Monti,and his group, believe they can.
This quote comes from the New York Real Estate journal of July 2012.
“The Triple Bottom Line philosophy revolves around social, economic and environmental responsibility with an emphasis on community participation throughout the redevelopment process and the inclusion of locally owned, independent businesses within a re-envisioned downtown.”This is NOT a “Levittown” developer. But they will have the same impact on the landscape of Long Island and elsewhere. All you need to do is take a look at any of these “public inclusion” websites created by Crowdsourced Placemakers LLC, who works with renaissance on their social media public outreach programs. Check out BristolRising.com to see what they’ve been able to do in Bristol CT. Or should I say, what the residents have been able to do. Think of a remastered Norman Rockwell USA for the Social Media generation. Then check to see what they have just begun to do at “Renew Hempstead” and start to think about how this symmetry may work.
Mr. Palanker didn’t get into any details with me about their plans for the 77 acres, but he did mention a sports entertainment complex, a new arena and bioscience center. Yes, a “new” arena. Studies need to be done to see if new is the best way to go, but it’s a distinct possibility. The only thing missing is transit and with Hempstead housing a major bus and train center, the idea of a light rail of some sort down Hempstead Turnpike to connect the two seems genuinely feasible. He’s very confident it can work. (Remember the idea of those Islander Trolly cars for the Lighthouse Project? Wouldn't that be nice rumbling up Hempstead Turnpike?)
As a matter of fact, it may work so well that they may be able to connect Hempstead, the Hub and the courthouses and municipal buildings in Mineola. Where’s the funding? Admittedly it would have to fall predominately on the private sector with some governmental funding being available from State and Federal levels.
“The plan has to work for everyone.” There have been no formal meetings with the Islanders as of yet. “We feel confident we can work with the Islanders organization. We have a team that understands what they need. We feel we can present something that actually works. We know we can make it work.”
Charles Wang thought he could make it work too. He invested millions of dollars in the design and planning and paid for the environmental studies ordered by the Town of Hempstead. Luckily, some of those studies may be able to be used. “Wouldn’t’ have to start from square one.” Brandon told me as I tried desperately to write down notes.
“We’ve reached a point in time where the stars have aligned. It’s our opportunity. We must take it. It’s up to US.” And by ‘us’ Mr. Palanker means residents of Hempstead Village and of Long Island. If we want to revitalize our Island and prepare it for the future, along with keeping our only major sports franchise, it is up to us. The politicians won't do it alone.
Certainly there will be some traffic and parking concerns, but not of the same magnitude as previously feared with residential development densely occupying the space.
So, maybe Donald Monti will save the New York Islanders. And while he’s at it, he’ll create jobs, boost the local economy and revitalize some of the most underutilized property on Long Island. One of which is that 77 acres of grey asphalt that will be a vast wasteland should the Islanders leave in 2015.
Of course, this is all dependent on "if" and "when" Ed Mangano approves their RFQ. Ahem… tick tock Ed. Tick Tock!