Builders and public officials marked the start of construction Thursday on the $400 million Meadows at Yaphank residential and retail complex -- a much smaller version of the massive mini-city once envisioned for the hamlet by developer Wilbur Breslin.

Breslin of Garden City and his Yonkers-based business partner, Allan V. Rose, joined officials such as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine as they ceremoniously drove nails into two-by-fours at what will be the 322-acre complex's clubhouse.

In March 1989, Breslin unveiled plans for a 1.65-million-square-foot mall, up to 12,655 homes, 1.3 million square feet of office and industrial space and a hotel on 2,000 acres stretching from the Long Island Expressway north to Middle Country Road. Opponents derisively called it "Willy World."

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The Meadows is expected to have 850 housing units, a hotel and 327,000 square feet of retail space when construction is completed in about 10 years. Officials have said the development on William Floyd Parkway could fill critical housing needs for young professionals and staff at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

"This is a great, great day for Suffolk County," Bellone told about 80 invited guests at the ceremony. He said he hoped the project would help make Suffolk "one of the hottest regions of the country for young people to come."

Developers plan to begin renting housing units later this year, said Brian Ferruggiari, spokesman for Rose's company, AVR Realty. Most one-bedroom units are expected to rent for about $1,700 to $1,800 a month; 10 percent of units would be state-mandated "affordable" units rented at lower rates, he said.

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The property had been the Parr Meadows horse racing track, which opened in May 1977 and closed 113 days later. About 18,000 rock fans saw the Woodstock Reunion concert there in September 1979. The racetrack reopened in 1986 as Suffolk Meadows, only to close again a year later.

Breslin began buying Yaphank properties in 1972 for what planners called a new Levittown. Breslin gradually downsized his proposed mini-city and joined forces with Rose in 1999. They dropped plans for the larger mall in 2003 in favor of a smaller plan. Brookhaven officials approved the Meadows in 2011.

Romaine Thursday praised Breslin and Rose for seeing the project through.

"Look around," he said. "Your legacy is being built because of your persistence."