The Fire Island Pines residential market has responded so far with an unfazed yawn to the $17-million sale of the commercial properties overlooking the harbor and ferry dock, including a hotel, grocery store, gym, two restaurants and a nightclub, says C.J. Mingolelli of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Cherry Grove and Manhattan, who has listings in the Pines.
“The market is unchanged as of the news,” says Mingolelli. “There’s a great amount of interest in sales and seasonal rentals, and that has not changed at all. This has happened in the past,” he adds. “This could be an amazing thing, and it could be status quo.”
Local acceptance of the project is in part due to the slow and careful courtship by the purchasers, journalist Andrew Kirtzman, real estate investor Matt Blesso and investment banker Seth Weissman, who have treaded ever so gently into the deeply-entrenched, predominantly gay community.
For one, there are rigid partying schedules to be respected, says Ron Martin, the president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association. “One of the institutions in Fire Island Pines, going back more than 40 years, is what’s known as Tea Dance.” Tea Dance is a ritualized summer bar crawl beginning with après-beach cocktails and progressing to a rowdy dance-party climax. “They intend to retain that because it’s part of our community’s culture. But everyone who goes tends to buy one or two cocktails while they’re there. So people were saying, does this suddenly mean we’ll go from being able to buy a seven- or eight-dollar cocktail to having to buy a 15-dollar cocktail? Instead of two, we’ll only buy one? But they seem to very mindful that they can price themselves too high and that won’t work to their advantage,” he says.
Martin says homeowners in the Pines are very cognizant of rental activity in the area – in part because many of them own rental properties, but also because today’s renters are tomorrow’s buyers. For that reason, they see the project as a good thing for their own property values, he says.
“The renters in particular care about what’s offered in the commercial district…They go to the beach, but they need also an exciting, vibrant downtown area…a place to go where there’s activity and bars and restaurants and nightclubs, in order to have a good time and a full weekend. So any investment in the community is a good thing.” In particular, he looks forward to the renovation of the shabby hotel. “That’s the most visible building you see when you enter our harbor and our marina, and it makes a very big statement about our downtown,” he says.
Jon Wilner of Island Properties of the Pines, the sole broker in the commercial sale, says a healthy 80 percent of seasonal rental properties are rented for 2010, although it has dipped from last year’s 95 percent at this time of year. “I think the sale is going to help enormously, because anything that brings excitement always helps,” he says. “People who call me to rent houses say, ‘Oh, we heard everything has been sold, that’s so exciting.’ Whenever anybody pours an enormous amount of money into a seasonal community, you know the results are going to be substantial. The foundation for the market is strong already, so anything else is gravy.” Wilner predicts an uptick in both the seasonal market and the weekly rentals.
Newsday photo / J. Conrad Williams Jr.