Lindenhurst Village's new efforts to revitalize its downtrodden downtown are beginning to pick up speed.
With 16 percent of its Wellwood Avenue and Hoffman Avenue stores vacant -- including some for several years -- the village's business district has become a focus of concern.
In January, the village began holding the first meetings of its newly formed six-member economic development committee. Members, who include village officials, community and business leaders, are conducting a survey on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the business district. Recently, the downtown's aesthetics also drew attention, with an artist creating a mural near the village square with the goal of fostering a "greater positive atmosphere" downtown.
"We've got a lot of irons in the fire," said Shawn Cullinane, village clerk-treasurer and the committee's chairman. He said the committee is still gathering information from many sources, including details such as zoning on about 150 properties in the downtown corridor. "We're at a very initial step, but we're getting a discussion going," he said.
Committee meetings have featured not only ideas for attracting commerce but criticism of village relations with existing businesses. Mike Fallon, a downtown building owner, noted at one meeting that he knew of a coffee shop owner who, after polling local businesses, decided to set up shop elsewhere.
"They're telling people it's a lousy place to do business," he told the committee. Critics have said that the village is too focused on issuing summonses.
JoAnn Boettcher, president of the Lindenhurst Chamber of Commerce, said the village's relationship with business owners has improved in recent months.
"I think the village has made a change in the way they are handling things these days," she said.
Boettcher pointed to the committee reaching out to other villages and said Lindenhurst can learn from success stories such as the village of Patchogue, which in the past decade has turned a decaying downtown into a thriving area. Lindenhurst would benefit from a similar approach to its parking, Boettcher said, with lots behind businesses that have well-lit pathways.
The committee recently invited Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri to discuss how Lindenhurst might replicate his village's efforts. Pontieri said Lindenhurst needs to focus on its assets, such as the Long Island Rail Road station. He said downtown housing is key to attracting businesses, but that officials and residents need to get over density fears.
"Don't let the size of the project scare you," he said. "Take the elements of the community and put it into the design. Things like parking, traffic, accessibility -- just make sure all of those things work, and then it doesn't matter how many units it is."
Boettcher said she is more optimistic about a downtown revitalization than she has been in many years. "I do see that they're taking the lead for the first time in a long time," she said of officials. "But it's not just listening to what people have to say, it's acting on it."