Editorial: A deal befitting the boardwalk
There is no landscape more iconic, no one place that holds more pleasurable memories of summer for generations of Long Islanders, than Jones Beach. It's our public treasure, a state park for all to enjoy.
That's why the outcry about the construction of a replacement restaurant there seems as outsized as the personality of Donald Trump, who holds the contract to build and operate it. The simple pleasure of the location -- dune grass, a wooden boardwalk and salty breezes -- seems discordant with a place called "Trump on the Ocean." And that's why it's so important for Albany to ensure that the final structure is in harmony with its location.
In 2008 we advocated for settling the dispute between Trump and the New York State Parks Department. Now there is finally an agreement that ends the tangled litigation and should lead to the construction of a new restaurant on the south side of Ocean Parkway, where Robert Moses put the first one in the 1930s.
Time did serve Trump well; four governors in, he has reached a deal with the administration of Andrew M. Cuomo who, along with his parks commissioner, Rose Harvey, now owns this project. Trump avoided paying rent in a down economy, got the clock reset on the 40-year lease and will be able to build a basement -- although only for storage, not cooking -- in a flood plain.
In return, the arrangement ends an unsightly hole in the ground. In this partnership, the private investor will spend $24 million constructing the facility the state will actually own, and he will turn over rent and a percentage of gross receipts, estimated at tens of millions of dollars a year. That revenue is dedicated by law to maintenance of the site and other state parks. One worthwhile use of the money should be reversing the deep staffing cuts to the department in recent years. There will be short-term construction jobs as well as permanent hospitality jobs. Trump gets a slightly larger catering hall that can accommodate 1,250, and the public gets a slightly larger 400-seat restaurant with an ocean view. So that the restaurant remains accessible to most beach users, the parks department has control over pricing.
Our concerns, however, remain the same as when the deal was first announced in the waning days of the Pataki administration. The new building and its signage must maintain the historic character and aesthetics of the site. The state insists that the new contract ensures it will have even more control over the design and materials used.
The state's comptroller still must sign off on whether the contract benefits are as stated, and Trump still needs to meet the proper environmental and building-code demands before permits will be issued.
If, and when, the shovel goes into the sand, expected to be in 2013, the Cuomo administration must be extra vigilant that the fine details of the contract are met. The state plans to hire a capital construction consulting firm to perform that function. That's good. But there will be hundreds of thousands of park visitors there, carefully watching as well.
Sand castles only last until the next tide. For this one to survive and thrive, it must have the beauty and function to capture us all.