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Huntington foundation to raise money to spruce up town parks

Board member of 1653 Foundation, Mark McAteer, explained on Tuesday how

Board member of 1653 Foundation, Mark McAteer, explained on Tuesday how the foundation plans to accept donations to help revitalize aspects of Firemen's Park in Cold Spring Harbor. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Huntington-based nonprofit is set to give a financial assist to spruce up the town's open spaces with ideas from the public.

The mission of the 1653 Foundation is to restore, manage and enhance the parks and public spaces within the town using funds raised through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Robert Bontempi, founding member and chairman of the foundation, said one of the biggest challenges faced by municipalities is finding money to create and maintain parks and keep them running for everyone’s benefit.

The town has an Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Advisory Committee whose mission it is to review, advise and recommend open space purchases and park improvement projects, and a beautification council, but there was something missing, Bontempi said.

"There was no mechanism for corporations or individuals to give money that had a taxable benefit," he said. "So, if the Bontempi family wanted to give a donation to the general cause or a targeted project that the foundation is supporting they can do it now and get a taxable benefit."

The idea for the foundation, which is named for the year Huntington was founded, came from Bontempi, who also is vice chairperson of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce and a town planning board member; Brian Yudewitz, also a vice chairperson with the chamber; Mark McAteer, a principal with the landscape design company The Laurel Group; and Greg Wagner, former Huntington Town director of parks and recreation.

Formed in 2018, the aim is to have town government, various committees, partner organizations and other influencers, to inform policy decisions and direct funding raised through the foundation to select projects.

Bontempi said the foundation also offers a place corporations can spend charitable money in the local community. He cited businesses in Melville as a place that can be targeted in Huntington, he said.

Bontempi said the foundation had been organizing a board and business model to sort out how to solicit funds, identify projects, and get the money to the town when COVID-19 hit.

But before pandemic-related delays, they were able to email a survey to 20,000 people asking, "Where would you like to see our first organizational efforts made? Think big! Be a change agent for Huntington. What do you want to see initiated, rebuilt, or improved for our town?"

"We got a good cross section of cool responses," Bontempi said.

The ideas ranged from specific, such as additional plantings, antique lights installed and the grass area reestablished at Greenlawn Memorial Park, to the more mundane, such as more tree maintenance to make parks safer.

The foundation also was able to partner with the town’s beautification council and a local artist to adorn utility poles in Huntington Station.

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci and town board member Joan Cergol, who co-sponsored a resolution declaring support for the mission and purpose of the foundation, both applauded the foundation’s goals.

"I’m excited about this partnership because it creates both an incentive and a mechanism for private investment in our town parks, which benefits everyone, most especially our residents," Cergol said.

Survey says

Ideas collected from a 1653 Foundation survey include:

  • Walking paths along the town's waterfront properties

  • New playgrounds, including in Huntington Station and East Northport

  • Expansion of historic district in downtown Huntington

  • Playground, fenced skateboard/bike park and running trail with exercise points at Fair Meadow Park in Huntington Station

  • Improvements at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station

  • Lights, grass, and/or gravel at the dog run on Deposit Road in East Northport

  • Reduced fees at the Dix Hills pool for children of middle- and low-income families

  • Public pool closer to downtown Huntington

  • Mountain bike trails

Take the survey: 1653foundation.org

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