In the late 1970s, when George Nesenger opened his Chevrolet dealership in East Patchogue, the surrounding stretch of highway was a busy commercial corridor packed with car dealerships, recalled his son, Bruce Nesenger.
By the late 1990s, though, traffic patterns had shifted, and "things were going downhill," said Bruce Nesenger, 64. He moved the business to Medford in 1998 and sold the building, which languished for the past decade until the Town of Brookhaven purchased it last year.
For the past two weeks, a construction company has been tearing down the blight of a building on Montauk Highway -- the latest step in revitalizing this section of East Patchogue along the Swan River by turning the property into a town park.
"We've still got more to go, but this is a huge piece of the work of restoring this area," said Rep. Tim Bishop, a Democrat from Southampton, who secured about $1 million in federal funds for the project. "This is an example of government at its best."
Bishop spoke at a news conference Friday at the site, along with several local officials.
Afterward, a construction worker, Anthony Long, used a 50-ton excavator to begin tearing down the building's facade, among the final pieces still standing. Long's company, Ronkonkoma-based CIA Construction, volunteered to do the roughly $80,000 job for free, after reading about the town's efforts to restore other area properties.
The company will recoup roughly half of its expenses after it salvages steel and aluminum from the site, said chief executive Steve Long, 51. "This wasn't a matter of money," Long said. "It's fulfilling. Makes us feel good." And, he added, "Demolition's fun."
Once the demolition is complete, town officials plan to use the federal money to turn the property into green space. They've submitted a state grant application for additional funding and hope to put in walking trails and a kayak launch.
Community advocates have enlisted county government to try to acquire an adjacent parcel on Montauk Highway, on the other side of the river from the former Nesenger property.
"This strip right here has been the stepchild," said Marita Morello, 65, president of a local community group, Focus East Patchogue. "We are now trying to bring East Patchogue back."