Renaissance Downtowns Gives Civic Group Update on Huntington Station Revitalization

Filed under: Around Town,Huntington Station,INVESTIGATIONS,News |

On Thursday, April 4, 2013, The Greater Huntington Civic group held their monthly meeting. The meeting opened with Steven Spucces, the group’s president and founder, giving an update on the Avalon Bay Development.  “As many of you know it was the judge’s decision to dismiss the case, however we are still pursuing it.  We have filed an appeal and we have 6 months to file the specifics of the appeal.”

After a brief list of announcements, the two speakers were introduced.  The speakers for the evening included representatives from Renaissance Downtowns and Vision Long Island.  Both groups are involved with the ongoing revitalization of Huntington Station.

Ryan Porter Project, manager and Vice President for Renaissance Downtowns along with Vice President Sean Mclean gave updates on their efforts. The presentation mainly involved informing the group about a document that describes their development strategy.  This document is supposed to be submitted and presented to the town board by the end of April.

During the presentation, Ryan Porter explained that Renaissance Downtowns is a development company based on Long Island for the past 40 years. “For about 35 of those years we were a typical development company. About 5 years ago we took a shift to focus primarily on revitalization of downtown areas”, explained Porter.

According to Porter, they are not hired by the town, they are spending their own money.  They formed the partnership with the Town about a year ago in April of 2012.  During that time, they have been working to build a relationship with the community and gain trust.  This is no easy task in a community that has been lied to for decades. The most recent example of deceit involves the Brownfield Opportunities Grant.

As emphasized by Porter and Mclean of Renaissance, “They created a development strategy, not a plan as part of our agreement with the town.  It is about getting feedback from the community.  It doesn’t actually talk about building anything. “

Renaissance Downtowns uses a variety of methods to reach out to interested parties.  They use social media, monthly meet ups and they meet with various organization.  “If I’m successful and I do my job, we are going to be working together for the next 10 years.” Porter told the group. “If I don’t get things done, I lose my job.”

Porter and McLean discussed what would be included in the document once it was finished. It will have 4 chapters that include:  “talking about us as a company, getting information from the community, strategies they will use, and implementation techniques.”

According to their agreement with the town, they are considered the master developer for the entire census district for Huntington Station.  This includes everything from Jericho turnpike, to Oakwood Road, to Park Avenue to where it connects with Huntington Village.  Porter explained, “Our focus area will be from the Village to 11th street on New York Avenue.  We’re focused on the commercial corridors where there used to be commercial and downtown development.  We don’t bleed in to the single family home areas.  We’re trying to bring in a downtown that used to exist and put it back where it used to be.”

Porter and McLean explained that the properties that they are in partnership with the town with are mainly the surface parking lots and the vacant land that sits around the train station. “We spend all the dollars and we get development rights to all the underutilized parcels”. Porter continued, “We are doing this because we believe that we can build value on this community.”

The concept involves creating neighborhood centers in the designated areas.  They will be designated with certain uses that are said to be coming from the Source the Station ideas.  Source the Station is the website where resident can give feedback.

The idea involves having 7 of these centers along New York Avenue. An 8th center is intended to be near the Armory and Manor field.   According the Porter, “The plan is for the state to turn the Armory over to the town and they will try to secure the necessary funds to turn that into a community center”.

In the document that they will be submitting to the town, each neighborhood center will have approximately 2 pages devoted to it. The pages will include the ideas from the source the station.

“We think there is an unbelievable opportunity for a hotel in this area”, stated Porter. “The biggest thing that has been supported is the apartments above storefronts and places for people to live”, stated Porter.

The document includes a section about public safety. The components include policing, eyes on the street, creating spaces that don’t include things like alleys.

Although the group was polite and listened intently, it was obvious that the general feeling was frustration at having sat through countless presentations of the same nature.  One common complaint you will hear from residents of Huntington Station is that the town never gets out of the planning phases of any of their proposals.

Throughout the presentation, both Porter and McLean tried to hit home the point that the residents have the final say in the plans.

“If the community doesn’t benefit, we don’t benefit” stated Porter.  “Unless there is support from the greater Huntington community to do something new there, the state isn’t going to move.” he continued.  “The local community has 100% of the say in the end.” He continued,  “they certainly will listen when the community stands up and says this is what we want.”

Ryan Porter empathized with those in attendances by stating, “what we feel that a lot of the frustration over the years is that consultants have come in, plans have come around and not a lot has happened.  What we think is different is that we are a private entity that are professionals at doing things like this. We bring our own dollars to the table that actually makes things happen as opposed to just coming up with some plan that could just sit on a shelf and collect dust for years”. He continued, “in the past developers and government entities have used eminent domain.  We don’t believe in that, we don’t think it’s necessary.”

“We don’t play party politics”, stated Sean McLean. He continued, “we strive in every community for unanimous votes for everything we do. We want 5 votes in the town of Huntington for what we are going to do.  The only way you get that is if you demonstrate that the community supports what you do”.

Steven Spucces stated, “As of now, they have not come out with a focus or a plan or planned sites, once they do, then we can take a stand whether we like it, whether we don’t like it, whether we like them, whether we don’t like them, but until then, I think we are going to have to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Hopefully in a perfect world we will love what they do and they revitalize the area”.

Huntington Station Resident Rob Conte stated, “There are  2-3 lots that are already shovel ready. You have Northridge, 1000 NY Avenue, Columbia Terrace. (Referring to parcels that have had ground breaking ceremonies by the town, but nothing more happened). “You have Rotondo on the other side which the town took by eminent domain and I know you’re talking about the bus depot.  What are you guys going to show us? Just start, and start with these shovel ready parcels and give us something and then we’ll talk about going forward with a hotel and developing the Rotondo site”.

The response from the Renaissance Downtowns representative was, “The issue is that we look at the ideas that have come up with some of those properties as not feasible. We are looking to making those ideas feasible.”

Porter continued, “There’s a group of people who really want to move things forward, they are tired of seeing plans and nothing built and there’s a group of people saying don’t run ahead of us let us give you our opinions first.  That’s our job, to try to balance those two things.”

Another resident in attendance at the meeting stated, “I think what is not being addressed is if there wasn’t this crime issue, you guys wouldn’t be needed”.  To which Ryan Porter responded, “absolutely.”  The resident continued, “I love the pretty pictures, I love the ideas of the community centers but the reality is until you acknowledge, the the town acknowledges and everyone notices the elephant in the room, nothing is going to change. Where’s your answer for the safety?”

Porter responded, “I hear you but it just can’t be a ton more cops, it has to be a combination of people and cops working together.”  He continued, “You are absolutely right we can’t make a profit until the perception of Huntingon Station and the reality of Huntington Station and the crime that is here is changed because nobody will occupy the buildings and we will dump every penny we have down the drain because we didn’t address those issues.”

Opinion From The Editors:

  • The current majority on the town board (Petrone, Cuthbertson, & Berland) couldn’t be more clear that they don’t care what the residents of Huntington Station/ School District 3 think if they yelled it from a bullhorn. Renaissance is not doing themselves any favors by trying to convince residents otherwise.  Our advice would be that Renaissance emphasize that they care what the residents think as the jury is still out on that.
  • The staff of Renaissance Downtowns has been very accessible and it is easy to set up a meeting with Ryan Porter or reach him by phone.  They have done an admirable job of trying to keep all interested parties in the loop.
  • At this point, we believe that the residents should be cautiously optimistic about Renaissance Downtowns.  While there is no concrete evidence to believe that it will be different this time, there is nothing to lose by giving them the benefit of the doubt. We recommend that all interested parties pay close attention.
  • The idea of a hotel sends off red flags for us.  We find it hard to believe that there is a need for a “boutique hotel in downtown Huntington Station at this point.  We have requested a copy of the studies that recommend this.  According to Ryan Porter the study will be done by the BOA Committee (Brownfield Opportunity).   This is troubling to us, as the BOA committee is made up of individuals that have lied to the residents of Huntington Station for a long time.  In fact, the entire BOA process is highly suspect.  (We will be doing a follow up story on the BOA process in the May Newspaper).
  • We believe that anyone who is interested in the future of Huntington Station should join source the station.  We don’t know if it will turn out to be different this time around, but it’s worth a try. Visit www.sourcethestation.com for more information.

After Renaissance Downtowns presented to the group, Eric Alexander from Vision Long Island discussed the role his with Revitalization.  This will be discussed in part 2 of this story.

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