Kings Park residents and business owners, who have at times been on opposite sides of community issues, are working together to help revitalize the area's stagnant downtown.
The Kings Park Chamber of Commerce and Kings Park Civic Association, along with a donor, have raised $15,000 and hired planners at Vision Long Island to help residents develop a smart-growth plan for downtown. The company has done similar work in about 20 communities across Long Island.
"Ultimately, what we hope to have is a picture of what most people in Kings Park want to see in their downtown," chamber president Tony Tanzi said. " . . . If everybody feels that they were part of the planning process, they will have a vested interest in helping to see its implementation."
The first community meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 24. During the "visioning" process, residents will discuss their hopes and concerns, rank images of different buildings, plazas and streets, as well as design maps for the area, officials at Vision Long Island said.
"You have a downtown that's poised to grow," Eric Alexander, director of the company, told residents at a civic meeting last week, referencing the area's access to parks and a train station. "The question, then, is how do you take most advantage of it?"
Kings Park is no stranger to having a bustling main street. It had built-in customers among the hundreds of workers at the nearby Kings Park Psychiatric Center. But when the facility closed in 1996, and with big-box stores replacing mom-and-pop shops -- an islandwide trend -- the downtown declined. It is still pockmarked by vacant storefronts.
But, in recent years, the opening of destination restaurants, a farmers market and summer concert series have generated more traffic. Revitalization is the next step, said civic association president Sean Lehmann.
"Revitalization is about bringing a walkable, viable, transit-oriented downtown to Kings Park," he said. "It's to provide some housing opportunities for our young workforce, as well as those who are empty-nesters and want to move into a smaller place and still stay in town."
In about six months, the groups expect to present a plan to town and county officials. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said he will help them get county, state and federal funding for sewers if a downtown vision is developed with the support of all stakeholders, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter confirmed.
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio declined to comment on the plans.
Linda Henninger, vice president of the civic group, said the planning process deliberately starts with community members and moves up to the elected officials.
"Who knows better about how a downtown should be revitalized than the people that live there? . . . It's not about looking back, pointing fingers. Then you get mired in the muck and then there's no movement forward -- and we want forward movement."