Downtown Bethpage, with its empty storefronts and anemic commerce, is not a happening place.
But Nassau wants to give the humble hamlet, hometown of County Executive Edward Mangano, the business, through a $140,000 county initiative to help find a cure.
The county is conducting a retail market study, a traffic analysis, a resident and business survey on its newly launched downtownbethpage.com, and public workshops, the first set for Nov. 28.
The market analysis and parking evaluation are to be completed by year's end. The entire project is set to wrap by July with a revitalization report, officials said.
The downtown's commercial vacancy rate is higher than the average for Nassau downtowns, county public works department spokesman Michael Martino said. Data provider Long Island Index in 2010 put Bethpage's downtown vacancy rate at 12 percent, compared with the 9 percent county average, he said.
"This made little sense, since the area has the attributes necessary to support a thriving local business district," Martino said in a statement. He cited mixed-use opportunities, the Long Island Rail Road station and "engaged civic and business organizations" as examples.
Bethpage Chamber of Commerce president Gary Bretton said he has seen many places "going out of business right in the heart of Bethpage . . . The potential for growth could be great if it's done right."
The county said Mangano was not available for comment on Bethpage, but his spokesman, Brian Nevin, said the project could lead to job creation and Bethpage could serve as a model for other Nassau communities. Martino said the county also has provided downtown planning support to Glen Cove, Port Washington and Inwood, among others.
Bethpage's downtown is defined by county-hired planning firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis as the area around the train station that includes Stewart Avenue and Broadway.
The firm is studying parking use to learn if and where more is needed, partner Kathy Eiseman said. It's examining where people shop, eat and "where else they might be spending money that they could be spending downtown," she said.
Eiseman said the project is meant to collect data and make recommendations for action. "You have to make sure you identify the problem before you solve it," she said.
Preliminary studies have shown that the downtown could use more sit-down restaurants, and that it has the potential to be a niche market for recreational goods, with Bethpage State Park nearby, she said.
"It makes sense to me," said Doug Rodriguez, 47, owner of the Bike Junkie bicycle shop downtown. The hamlet has benefitted from beautification efforts that standardized the look of sidewalks, streetlights and garbage bins on both sides of the train tracks, he said.
The county hired "smart growth" nonprofit Sustainable Long Island to oversee the survey, which about 400 people have completed, and community outreach.
"This is going to build a really strong foundation," said group executive director Amy Engel.