The first shovels of dirt were symbolically thrown Tuesday for a new apartment building in Wyandanch, part of what officials across all government levels are calling a crucial revitalization project for Long Island.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held to kick off construction on the first of two apartment buildings in downtown Wyandanch. The buildings are considered a key part of Wyandanch Rising, Babylon Town's 40-acre, $500-million public/private redevelopment that has been in the works for more than a decade.

Against a backdrop of bulldozers moving dirt, town, county, state and federal officials extolled the project, noting the bipartisan support among various levels of government.

"This will be the model," said Kevin Law, head of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group. "This will show how people can come together, work together and get projects done."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) only began representing the community -- one of the Island's most economically distressed -- five months ago after redistricting but said he has been a longtime supporter and feels Wyandanch will become a "premium community on Long Island and throughout New York State."

The project, will give the community "the opportunity to come forward and to live up to all of its potential," he said.

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The redevelopment has received $6.6 million in federal funds and $44 million in state low-cost financing, tax credits and grants. Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said the project is a "great example of teamwork" and Empire State Development head Kenneth Adams called it the "number one project for Long Island."

Wyandanch Rising was the brainchild of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone when he was supervisor of Babylon Town. "It's never been about just building new buildings, but about helping people to change lives," he said.

The buildings are being developed and financed by Albanese Organization Inc. of Garden City. The first building will be five stories with 91 units above retail space. The second building, which executive vice president George Aridas said they hope to break ground on in four months, will be four stories with 86 units above retail space. A plaza between the buildings with concert space, fountains and an ice-skating rink is to be built next year.

Retail space in both buildings will be commuter- and service-oriented, Aridas said, adding that the company has been in talks with some "recognizable regional names."

Sixty-seven percent of the units in the first building, expected to be completed in 18 months at a cost of $38 million, will be affordable housing for three levels of incomes, he said.

A third, commercial building is being designed, Aridas said. Now that construction has begin, he said he expects retail talks to intensify. "The groundbreaking is a major milestone for Wyandanch and the town," he said. "But from a real estate perspective, this is birth."