Community input key to reviving Long Island's older downtowns, experts say

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Community input is key to breathing new life into Long Island's older downtowns, local officials and redevelopment experts said Friday at a conference in Port Washington.

About 130 attendants, including residents, merchants and prospective business owners from throughout Long Island, talked about kick-starting downtowns during the North Hempstead Business and Tourism Development Corp.'s Downtown Revitalization Conference at the Harbor Links Clubhouse.

Kim Kaiman, who became executive director of the corporation five months ago, co-hosted the event with the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

"One of my initiatives is to educate our local businesses and interested government officials about all of the benefits of revitalizing and investing in our downtown main streets," Kaiman said. "It helps the community at large to prosper."

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Great Neck Mayor Ralph J. Kreitzman and others said the community at large should be a primary consideration when undertaking any downtown redevelopment plan if it is to have the best chance of success.

Kreitzman said more than 10 focus groups were formed to determine the direction of Great Neck's redevelopment. Included were residents, business owners, firefighters and children who were asked such questions as what they liked most and least about the downtown area and what they saw as "problems" there.

Vanessa Pugh, deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning, agreed that any good downtown revitalization strategy has to be constructed around community input.

Pugh said a redevelopment plan should be "multigenerational" and take into account the needs and desires of everyone ranging from children to seniors. "Everyone experiences a town in a different way," she said.

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said: "Revitalizing our downtowns is a key element to economic growth for so many communities here on Long Island. But there is no 'one size fits all' answer, which is why we work jointly to share ideas and knowledge."

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