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Group ends deal with Brookhaven IDA to redevelop Dowling aviation campus

The now-closed Dowling College campus in Shirley. Plans

The now-closed Dowling College campus in Shirley. Plans to redevelop the college's aviation property in Shirley have been grounded. Credit: James Carbone

Plans to redevelop the former Dowling College aviation property in Shirley have been grounded after a developer withdrew from the project last week under pressure from an impatient Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency.

Triple Five Aviation LLC, which had paid $14 million in 2018 to purchase the 105-acre site out of bankruptcy, terminated its role in the project after IDA officials said the company had failed to meet a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline for either rebuilding there or finding new tenants for buildings left behind when Dowling closed.

"Despite our best efforts, Triple Five has been unable to enter into enough binding agreements with tenants to successfully complete the project," Triple Five executive Justin Ghermezian wrote in a July 28 letter to the IDA.

IDA officials had given the company until last Friday to decide whether to withdraw from the deal or have it terminated by the IDA board.

Board members expressed concern last week that they had seen little activity at the Shirley property since Triple Five took possession of it in 2018. Buildings damaged last year by Tropical Storm Isaias also had not been repaired, officials said.

Under terms agreed to in 2018 by the IDA and Triple Five, the company had been expected to redevelop the site or lease it to tenants by last fall. That deadline was extended to the end of last year, IDA officials said.

"My concern is they haven’t done anything about reusing it," IDA chairman Frederick C. Braun III said during the meeting last week.

Triple Five's decision scuttles a 13-year plan in which the company was to make annual payments in lieu of taxes of between $368,747 and $935,320, officials said. The company will be expected to instead pay taxes based on the property's assessed value.

Triple Five Aviation is a subsidiary of Triple Five Worldwide, a Las Vegas- and Edmonton, Alberta-based conglomerate whose holdings include the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the Mall of America in Minnesota, one of the world’s largest shopping centers.

Triple Five also is part of an effort to redevelop 1,600 acres of the Enterprise Park at Calverton, known as EPCAL.

In an email to Newsday on Wednesday night, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she was aware Triple Five ended its Brookhaven deal, adding it was "a matter of concern to me. I will be discussing this matter with counsel and the town board."

Chris Kent, a Hauppauge attorney for Triple Five, said Wednesday in an interview the Calverton project would not be affected by the company withdrawing from the Shirley redevelopment.

The Shirley site was abandoned in 2016 when Oakdale-based Dowling lost its accreditation and closed after filing for bankruptcy protection. Dowling officials said at the time the college had $54 million in long-term debt.

Kent said Triple Five had planned to lease portions of the former Dowling site to flight schools. Those plans fell through last year because of shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

Triple Five also leases part of the site to online giant Amazon for driver training and parking, Kent said. That lease is not affected by Triple Five withdrawing from the IDA deal, officials said.

Kent said the company plans to submit new proposals for the Shirley site. He added the company will ask Brookhaven Town to rezone the property — which is primarily zoned for residential uses — so it can be used for industrial purposes.

"We’re going to put together a new plan and come back to them, and they actually encouraged us to do that," Kent said. "The pandemic was the biggest impediment to moving forward with the project as originally envisioned."

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