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Patchogue sees special arts district as key to its future

Patchogue village officials and residents discuss the initiative

Patchogue village officials and residents discuss the initiative to turn downtown Terry Street into an art and culture district. Credit: Newsday / Deon J. Hampton

Patchogue is painting a new future for itself.

Village officials are turning part of the bustling downtown into a home for the arts, creating a destination where people can explore their creativity with the hope that the resulting art, music and writing will attract visitors and new residents.

The transformation officially began Monday night when village board members created the Art and Culture District on Terry Street, two blocks from popular Main Street, known for its entertainment, bars and diners.

“By establishing the cultural art district, what we hope to do is basically [have artists] live, work and play in a house that is arts related,” Patchogue Village Trustee Susan Brinkman said. “So whether it be an artist who has a studio in the front, their work area in the back, and live upstairs, it’s a whole place for them to just live in their art.”

Terry Street was an ideal place to start since it’s home to Artspace Patchogue Lofts, an affordable rental housing complex with a first-floor gallery. It includes 45 apartments and an art gallery, and opened in July 2011 on a parcel previously occupied by a vacant house and a little-used village parking lot. The complex was part of the original downtown redevelopment that turned Patchogue from a series of boarded-up storefronts to a bustling collection of restaurants, bars and shops.

The Patchogue Arts Council, a nonprofit cultivating the local art scene by hosting art shows, fairs and the Arts of Terry Street festival, also is based on Terry Street. In the same block is The Plaza Cinema, an art house showing independent and foreign films, and offering filmmaking classes and children programs.

The new district will build on those operations and the street’s history, officials said.

Terry Street between Taylor Lane and Rider Avenue is dotted with about a dozen white mill homes — residences formerly occupied by local mill workers who crafted lace and parachutes during World War II, and a few businesses, village officials said.

Monday’s decision to immediately rezone the area from an assortment of residential and business uses to an arts district means that as home and business owners move out, artists will have an incentive to move in, officials said.

“We have some homeowners who are willing to sell, so this is the opportunity now, to allow for not just development or big companies to come in, but this is a chance for artists to expand their art,” said Dave Rogers, 48, a Patchogue artist eager to purchase one of the mill homes.

The village can’t offer tax breaks or financial incentives to artists to move in, officials said, but they consider the district’s creation enough of an incentive to attract new creative residents.

Rogers, an Artspace resident, said the village understands the importance of art.

“What’s different about Patchogue is that they are actually looking for ways to include the arts in the village,” he said.

Painter Richard Gardiner said he moved from Manhattan to Patchogue the day he retired from the advertising and graphics design industry two years ago.

“The arts is something everyone can appreciate and everyone can see it all happening here in Patchogue,” he said. “The community is embracing all types of art and promoting it.”

Village trustee Lori Devlin, who launched the idea for the district in 2008, said the former zoning regulations weren’t doing enough to encourage investment. And while Artspace and the arts council were the first successful moves toward promoting the arts, they didn’t spur development the way officials had projected.

“What I really thought would bring something to the community would be to turn the street into an arts district and to zone it in such a way that would allow artists to open up a business where they could live, work or teach and exhibit,” Devlin said.

The district is modeled after similar ones in Buffalo and Miami.

Brinkman said she remembers walking down a street in Miami when vacationing there years ago and seeing a variety of art galleries, cafes and pottery and glass makers on the same block.

“It was phenomenal. You could spend the entire evening just walking up the street and experiencing so many different mediums and ways of creating art,” she said of her trip down South. “How cool would that be for Patchogue? It’s the perfect place.”

Downtown Patchogue has grown rapidly in recent years from successful projects such as the $100 million New Village, a complex with more than 700 apartments, and $1 million in renovations to the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Those efforts in addition to restaurants and clubs have transformed the village into a hub for young adults seeking nightlife and dining options while attracting new residents and visitors from around the region.

Mayor Paul Pontieri said the arts district gives Patchogue a new image.

“This changes the perception of what Patchogue is. We’ve gone from being a downtown that was vacant to one that was primarily a bar scene. Now this gives a new look to the outside. It gives us the appeal of fine arts,” the mayor said.

Village residents applauded forming the district moments after Monday’s unanimous vote.

“Not doing this would be a mistake. It’s unbelievable, the money it could bring it,” longtime village resident Dennis Ross, 53, said, adding the district could draw more businesses such as high-end boutiques.

David Kennedy, executive director for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce said creating the arts district “is the logical next step.”

Village officials attributed the lack of opposition to the zoning change to Artspace having been a success.

“Artists feed off of each other and I just have an image of how the street is going to evolve. It will just have its own vibe and Terry Street will be known as the place where artists can come,” Devlin said.

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