Getting one of Long Island’s first multifamily, mixed-used developments off the ground hasn’t been easy for the developers of Patchogue’s $110 million New Village.
East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate Co., developer of the 291-unit apartment complex that opened last year, worked for nearly eight years to get the six-building, multistory project approved by local officials, maneuvering through lawsuits and fighting the perception that its offering would lead to massive congestion. Today, 93 percent of the apartments at the modern-looking “village within a village” are occupied.
“Really the construction part of it was a relief,” said Rob Loscalzo, Tritec’s chief operating officer and the executive in charge of overseeing both New Village and the developer’s planned Ronkonkoma Hub project. “Everything that happened prior to construction was the challenge.”
Having made it through the early hurdles, Tritec has had one ongoing issue: finding the right mix of shop owners and restaurants to fill its available retail space.
Loscalzo said that while the 18,000 square feet of office space is 100 percent leased, about half of the development’s 46,000 square feet of retail space remains unfilled.
“There’s a misconception I think that there’s just a group of these tenants out there that you can just go to and say, ‘Hey, put something here,’ ” he said.
New Village has attracted two new tenants recently: Primo Locale, an Italian restaurant to be opened by the owners of Primo Piatto in Huntington, and Arooga’s, part of a Pennsylvania-based restaurant chain, both expected to open in the spring. But finding businesses with the right fit takes patience, Loscalzo said.
Part of the challenge is selling CEOs of major franchises on the location.
“National retailers generally look to be along major highways, in large shopping malls or outlets, so convincing corporate America to locate in a small downtown village” is not easy, Loscalzo said.
“There’s no question it can take a couple years for retail to lease up fully,” said Maureen McAvey, senior resident fellow for retail with the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit land use education and research organization based in Washington, D.C.
McAvey, who often speaks with developers around the country about finding the right retail for the nation’s growing number of walkable downtown projects, said going slow and being selective is often the smarter move.
“The original tenants will set the tone,” she said, adding that even if some spaces remain vacant, visitors’ impressions are formed early. “There’s actually a great advantage in being careful and doing it right.”
When evaluating a prospective tenant, Loscalzo said he looks at three factors: character, capacity and capital. If a business isn’t passionate about the location, doesn’t have the expertise to execute a plan or doesn’t have the finances to make it all work, it generally doesn’t make the cut, he said.
“When you’re tenanting out a property, you want to make sure that the group that you’re dealing with has a vision,” he said, adding that the company has had to turn away potential tenants based on incompatible business models.
“There has to be a healthy mix of the eclectic and the franchises and local flavor,” he said. It’s all part of creating the type of “cool places” shoppers like to visit, he said. “It’s hard to get things done here, but when you do get something done, it’s got to be something that’s special.”
One business that has fit the mold well is Hoshi Sushi &amp; Hibachi, New Village’s first retail tenant.
Jie Lin, the eatery’s owner, signed a lease on his 4,400-square-foot space in 2011 and opened in 2012, two years before the project’s completion.
“We took a gamble,” Lin said, though having worked at a Japanese restaurant in Patchogue years ago, the restaurateur said he had faith in the project.
“People out there, they needed the sushi and they needed a fine restaurant,” he said. While Lin said his establishment gets most of its foot traffic from dinner customers, a substantial amount of business comes from nearby office workers who swing through during lunch.
Overall business has been good, Lin said, although at night he finds that parking fills up quickly for visitors to the downtown’s main street.
“I think it’s a good problem to have,” Lin said.