'Windfall on the ocean" was the headline of a 2006 Newsday story about the deal the state parks department made with Donald Trump to build a catering hall on the Jones Beach boardwalk. In six years of litigation that followed, the outcome of that "windfall" shifted like the sands.
Then Sandy came ashore. Mother Nature claimed the pot, giving us an unexpected chance for a fresh start. There will be no Trump on the Ocean, an 86,000-square-foot, two-story structure that, despite the building restrictions, was not the best fit for this premier public space designed by Robert Moses.
Trump, who had fought the state's denial of his original design of basement kitchens in a flood plain, eventually agreed to use that space only for storage. But Sandy had other ideas; it twisted the boardwalk, swamped the excavation site and swept away plywood surrounding the plot.
With investors and insurers now eyeing the proposed $26-million dollar structure as a liability, Trump wanted to walk away. And the state was smart to oblige him.
When the outgoing Pataki Administration signed the contract in 2006, the state was delirious over a 40-year lease at $200,000 annually and 2 to 5 percent of the revenue. Succeeding administrations, however, questioned the wisdom of the plan and grew more skeptical about how much revenue would come their way.
So what happens next on the spot where Moses put a modest boardwalk restaurant? A decade ago, the last concessionaire using the dilapilated structure (the second on the site) barely broke even. The state should revert to the original Moses concept of a seasonal restaurant, although one more stormproof. And it should turn a profit.
The Trump restaurant mistake was, at first, a policy one. An oceanfront venue enjoyed by millions shouldn't be leveraged into a $300-a-plate catering hall used by only a few as a way to fund the parks system. Then it became a planning error.
There is much restoration work needed at Jones Beach, Long Island's treasure. By one measure, however, Sandy gave us all a windfall on the ocean.