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Hauppauge IT company owners seeking variance to build office ice rink as employee perk

Joe Saggio, co-founder of Flexible Systems, with the

Joe Saggio, co-founder of Flexible Systems, with the electric equipment for an outdoor ice rink behind his business in Hauppauge, on Friday. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Hauppauge information technology company owned by hockey enthusiasts is proposing a home office ice rink.

Bohemia architect Michael Morbillo made the request at a Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals hearing last Tuesday on behalf of Joe Saggio, a principal in Flexible Business Systems, 290 Motor Parkway in the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.

The ask itself — a height variance to allow for construction of a "13,418-square-foot steel frame structure with an ice rink" behind the office, according to the BZA agenda and Smithtown Planning Department documents — is "somewhat unique," Morbillo said at the hearing. But the ice rink as an employee perk is part of a trend toward workplace amenities that he said "is occurring in medium-sized businesses — I’ll call it maybe a little bit of the Google effect."

HIA-LI, the association representing the Innovation Park’s 1,350 companies, has taken notice, working with Town of Smithtown officials to develop zoning, passed last year, that will allow for ground-floor retail and restaurants in portions of Innovation Park, along with apartments that could allow for perhaps the ultimate perk, an ultra-short commute.

At design firm 71 Visuals, an Innovation Park neighbor that specializes in branding commercial office space, principal Craig Geiger called the Flexible Business Systems proposal "a smart tactic" similar to what some of his tech company clients do in New York City to help employee recruitment and retention, except "only on Long Island you can do ice rinks."

In a tight job market, young, sought-after employees look for more than just salary and benefits, Geiger said. "You have to love where you are — the newer generations are definitely focused on that."

His own company invested in an outdoor patio and tabletop shuffleboard. They also keep a keg of beer in the company kitchen with a Yuengling lager currently on tap.

Flexible Business Systems partners Saggio, Marty Schmitt and Seth Belous met while playing hockey at Stony Brook University in the 1980s, they told Newsday in 2014. Since taking over the 40,000-square-foot former Dale Carnegie Associates building in 2018, the 120-employee company has also installed a golf simulator and a two-lane Brunswick bowling alley.

"Facebook, Amazon, Google: They pay very good money to kids out of college and we need to compete," Saggio said in a phone interview.

Free ice time, along with competitive pay and career development opportunities, is the route they’ve chosen to do that. Saggio declined to give the cost of the rink but said his company already had some materials from an outdoor rink they opened last year.

"If you’ve ever played hockey, it’s your dream to have your own rink," he said. "We had pickup games, and Friday and Saturday nights we had family skates" with lights and music, Saggio said. "One night I almost started crying — it started snowing. So beautiful."

The company also opened the ice to area youth teams unable to practice at their home rinks because of COVID restrictions, Saggio said.

He envisions a three-on-three league with teams fielded by other Innovation Park companies and, eventually, a youth program that would expose students to the possibilities of both ice hockey and a tech career.

BZA member Anthony Tanzi said the board handles applications for accessory structures "all the time" and that applications for employee recreation spaces are not unusual. No decision has been made on the application from Flexible Business Systems, he said.

Asked whether he had ever, in his 14 years on the board, handled a request for an office ice rink, Tanzi said, "No, as a matter of fact, I have not."

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