Long Island has been “left behind” as New York City’s economy has surged, but the $11.2 billion effort linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal and other rail projects will be “game changers” for the region, RXR Realty’s Scott Rechler told a gathering of real estate executives Wednesday morning.
The troubled East Side Access work has been “painful,” with massive delays and cost overruns from its original $2 billion projected price tag, said Rechler, chairman and chief executive of Uniondale-based RXR, the Island’s largest commercial landlord.
But East Side Access and other work to increase Long Island Rail Road’s capacity “are going to be true game changers for Long Island and position us to be much more competitive,” Rechler said at a Long Island Real Estate Group breakfast at Old Westbury Golf & Country Club.
The improvements will not only ease commuting headaches, but also spark more downtown development that will be attractive and affordable for talented young people and the corporations seeking to hire them, said Rechler, who is chairman of the Regional Plan Association, a research and advocacy group that last year published a long-range plan for the New York City metropolitan area. “The most important ingredient for success in this idea-based economy is talent,” he said.
In addition to East Side Access, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022, Long Island will benefit from the LIRR’s ongoing work adding a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma and a third track between Floral Park and Hicksville, Rechler said.
The rail work “gives us the opportunity to think about more transit-oriented development more realistically, whether it’s around Hicksville or other places in Long Island,” said Rechler, who is a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board and a former vice chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “These investments are really what spark the growth for the future.”
New York City’s economy has thrived as infrastructure and development have come to Brooklyn, Long Island City in Queens and Manhattan’s downtown and Hudson Yards, but by contrast, “Long Island has been . . . left behind,” he said.
Rechler threw a bit of cold water on a proposed tunnel between the North Shore and Westchester County. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo touted the tunnel in January as an economic catalyst and a way to ease traffic on the Long Island Expressway, but hundreds of people jammed a meeting in Bayville last month to oppose the plan.
The plan is “challenging,” Rechler said. “What you have to ultimately look at is what is the return on investment for the public . . . there’s a finite number of dollars, and so I’m not sure right now that would stack up on the top of the list.”
Rail work, he said, “is probably right now a better means.”
Rechler spoke for more than an hour, and got a warm reception from the crowd of real estate brokers, attorneys and other industry executives.
Not all Long Islanders agree with his pro-growth message. Local officials need to focus on reducing taxes and regulation, not building up downtowns, said Steven Spucces, 42, president of the Greater Huntington Civic Group, who lives in Huntington with his wife and two daughters and works as a financial adviser. Spucces did not attend the breakfast gathering.
“If you have a business-friendly environment, a business-friendly tax system, companies are going to come and they’re going to bring with them high-paying jobs,” Spucces said in a telephone interview. “When the high-paying jobs come, the young people will be able to afford to live on Long Island.”