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Central Islip, with eye toward revitalization, hosts downtown arts fair

The festival is part of efforts to rethink the downtown area, focusing on events, new housing, commercial development and other improvements funded with $10 million from the state.

Face painter Tara Scarfo shows Nico Stasio of

Face painter Tara Scarfo shows Nico Stasio of Central Islip, the artwork on his face in a mirror at Central Islip's first arts festival on Sunday. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

The arts festival along Central Islip's Carleton Avenue on Sunday seemed like just another bit of weekend fun.

But behind the kids screaming their way down the inflatable slide and the artists displaying their work was a big moment of hope for this stretch of commercial roadway.

Ten million dollars worth of hope, to be precise. This segment of the main drag, nearly a mile long, is targeted for change thanks to $10 million in state money that promises to provide new housing, commercial development and transportation improvements.

"This is a beginning," said Margarita Espada, 54, a longtime resident who helped organize the festival, a first for this community. "We want to make this a beautiful place, with people shopping around and going to restaurants."

The stretch between Brightside and Third avenues, just south of the railroad tracks, is "very down" now, she said, adding she sees people suffering from the opioid crisis and the abandoned storefronts in the area. Police found four bodies a few blocks away last year, suspected victims of the MS-13 gang.

Watching a handful of children painting scenes of mountains and a big shining sun, longtime resident and civic activist Nancy Manfredonia saw a better future for Central Islip.

"Our youth, the next generation, are looking for an art space, and to get involved in the community, so they can become the leaders of the community," Manfredonia, 75, said. "We want to inspire them."

Long a member of the Central Islip Civic Council, she said progress has occurred not far away on Carleton Avenue: two hotels, the Long Island Ducks ballpark, federal and state courthouses. But this section has remained a forgotten part of town.

Community representatives held their first meeting with the governor's representatives on Friday to begin the planning and revitalization, said Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter. A list of names has been submitted to fill a local planning committee.

The sense of vitality was boosted in June when Central Islip was designated a federal Opportunity Zone, which offers tax incentives for investment in the area.

Sunday was all about spreading that sense of vitality among the residents, creating a sense of community and coming together on a street that otherwise offers little more than an auto body shop, hair salon, thrift store and the peeling facade of a Knights of Columbus building.

Kids became superheroes thanks to face-painting. Local officials had some good things to talk about. Ice cream was in abundance. All under a sky where the sun was fighting to break through dark clouds.

"This community has a proud history of engagement," Carpenter said.

The future, she said, "It's going to be soaring."

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