Long Island Singing A New Tune: I’m Walking
Just as New Jersey has Rumsen and Camden and Connecticut has Greenwich and Bridgeport, so goes Long Island. For every Garden City, there is a Village of Hempstead. For every South, East and Bridgehampton, there is a Wyandanch.
After decades of ignoring the non-home buyer, multiple housing initiatives are taking place in both Suffolk and Nassau counties. Called TOD (transit oriented development), the three major projects are New Village At Patchogue; a TOD of Tritec real estate; The Albanese Corporation’s Wyandanch Rising; and perhaps the most ambitious project is taking shape in the Village of Hempstead, where Renaissance Downtowns is looking to break ground on a TOD site by this summer. For decades, Hempstead was the retail hub of Nassau County; until shopping malls such as Roosevelt Field and Green Acres drained the area.
“We are not only at the downtown village hub and the Nassau Coliseum hub as two separate and distinct entities,” explained Brandon Palanker, V.P. of Marketing & Public Affairs at Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns. “We see potential synergy between the two. We have 3500 residential units that are approved in the village of Hempstead. We’re talking about a mixed use fabric with an addition of market rate-multi-family that will be very attractive to existing Hempstead residents and also to young professionals across Long Island. A key driver are the young professionals. We see a high-tech bio-science research campus setting at the Coliseum site; along with a smaller arena and retail. We are looking to attract firms with high-paying jobs who haven’t thought of Long Island.”
Renaissance is focused primarily on municipalities with a population between 25,000 and 150,000 with existing or proposed rail connections. The company, under CEO Don Monti, is also the master developer in towns such as Bristol and Waterbury, Connecticut plus Nashua, New Hampshire.
As with Patchogue and Stony Brook, the Hempstead hub looks to a university: in this case Hofstra. “Beyond any formal relationships, we are looking at uses that would be attractive to the student body,” said Polanker. “But it goes beyond Hofstra There are 50,000 students within a couple of miles of the village of Hempstead and the Coliseum site. In addition to Hofstra, you have Nassau Community College and Adelphi; to name two.”
Regarding New Village At Patchogue, Bob Coughlan of Tritec said, “We are looking at attracting a young population between 22 and 35 and an older population from between 55 and 70. Traditionally, Long Island has been built with single family homes. 75% used to live in ‘traditional’ homes; now 75% live in multi-family units. There isn’t housing supply to meet that need. Both Patchogue and Ronkonkoma are TOB mixed used developments. We lose 25% of the your population between 22 and 35 an an annual basis. We have 291 rental apartments; 67 will be workforce; the balance will be market rate rental; with 45,000 square feet of retail and 17,000 square feet of office. We went to rentals due in part to the difficulty of getting financing for a non-rental development. One reason is that its hard to get people approved for mortgages. We focused for the first 15 years on commercial properties. Then it dawned on us that what fills our buildings is job growth.” (Early in 2012, a state Supreme Court Justice ruled in favor of New Village, which was defending itself against a lawsuit designed to block the housing development.) In addition, The Town of Brookhaven (where Ronkonkoma is located) design committee recommended TRITEC as the Master Developer for the Ronkonkoma hub project. The project aims to redevelop the 50 acres on the North side of the LIRR train station into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly community.
“One of the factors for job growth is a well educated, young workforce,” said Coughlan. “We have 17% of our housing stock for rentals; the national average is 35%. Northern New Jersey and Westchester have it at 40%. Stony Brook is the largest employer in Suffolk County and they’re building a new children’s hospital which will employ 1,000 people.” Occupancy is projected for the second quarter of 2014. The average rental is $1500-$3000 per month.
In July of 2009, the N Y Times profiled Wyandanch in their “Living In’ feature; a mostly non-critical overview of a New York-area city or town. Except when it came to Wyandanch. The Times pulled no punches and described in detail a community suffering many social and physical ills.
“I’m glad I didn’t read the Times article. We might not have proceeded,” chuckled George Aridas, EVP at Albanese, developer of Wyandanch Rising. “On a serious note, the community still has the problems it had in 2009 but not as many. With the help and input of then Babylon town supervisor and now Suffolk county executive Steve Bellone, we have made much progress.”
The three projects all are ‘public/private’; with the infrastructure the responsibility of the town and county involved. “The town began to acquire the land around the (LIRR) train station and secured financing for the installation of sewers. They then did a master plan for the 40-acre site near the station,” explained Aridas. Developers submitted proposals and Albanese was on the short list; and eventually chosen as the master developer.
Although located in Garden City, the Albanese Organization made its mark with LEED-certified residential buildings in Manhattan. In 2000, Albanese was chosen to develop the first “green” high-rise residential tower in the United States. It was named The Solaire and was the first high-rise residential project to receive LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and was also honored with a Top Ten Award from the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment. The company is also a major landlord of commercial property near it’s home base on Long Island.
And like the developments in Hempstead and Patchogue, Wyandanch Rising is looking for a mix of local residents and workers from such nearby institutions as State University at Farmingdale and the recently opened corporate headquarters of Canon. In addition, Republic Airport is located near the town. Ground has yet to broken on the project.
“We see TOD as the next step in sustainabilty,” explained Aridas. “It’s getting people out of the car; promoting walking and also taking advantage of the mass transit infrastructure.”
Steve Viuker is a Brooklyn, New York business journalist.
He has covered real estate, small business and banking for numerous national online and print media.