Civic and government leaders toiling away on New Cassel's revitalization are pretty worn down with all the bad press their project has endured: financial mismanagement, sinking foundation worries and union troubles - and once again Thursday, criminal charges of officials corruptly profiteering off their renewal.
They'd rather talk about the bustle of construction along Prospect Avenue, where mixed-use buildings are in various stages of completion and occupancy. Or the millions being used to make Prospect a walkable boulevard with landscaping, wider sidewalks, lighting and bike lanes.
Or how about the just-opened bids for the new community center, due for completion in 2012? It's a LEED-certified building that will house two basketball courts, a dance studio, Internet cafe, seniors' lounge and children's reading room, party rooms and the Town of North Hempstead's television studio.
"It's frustrating for such an important and good project to constantly be confronted with these bumps in the road that divert attention from what will be a great success story," said North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman of the news of Thursday's charges.
"There's a reason why it's very hard to redevelop communities in need such as New Cassel," he said.
The developer at the heart of the charges, Stoneridge Homes of Rosedale, was selected by the town's Community Development Agency in 2004 despite a history of problems elsewhere. It was ordered to stop work in 2007 after the town found it had removed more than twice as much soil from the foundation as permitted, and contractors said it took shortcuts in stabilizing the site
But the selection of Stoneridge took place six or seven years ago, Kaiman said, and the foundations have long since been declared safe. The former Stoneridge developments are now under the control of a new developer, First Sterling Financial of Manhasset, whose spokeswoman said Thursday that construction is "moving along well" and the buildings will be ready for occupancy in the fall.
Altogether, $80 million has been spent on New Cassel since 2002 through the efforts of the federal government, state, county, town and local community, said Sarah Lansdale, executive director of Sustainable Long Island, which helped drive the community planning process.
"It's disheartening at times to have to go through this," agreed Bishop Lionel Harvey, president of the Unified New Cassel Community Revitalization Corporation. But, he noted, "The businesses are coming, the buildings are up, the people are excited - it's in full swing."