Developers behind the Ronkonkoma Hub say the $350 million project is moving apace, and they are making buyout offers to nearby property owners.

Executives of East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate told those at a Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce meeting Thursday that they hope to break ground next year on the mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development that aims to provide a "gateway to Eastern Long Island."

The development -- which may be linked to Long Island MacArthur Airport -- is planned for 50 acres surrounding the Long Island Rail Road station in Brookhaven and Islip towns.

Tritec executive Bob Coughlan said eminent domain will be used only as "a tool of last resort" but that he hoped to work cooperatively. Tritec has approached most of the eight owners of the majority of 54 parcels, and some offers are in negotiations, Coughlan said. The properties are largely commercial.

Tom Newman, owner of a World Gym and a commuter parking lot within the target acquisition area, urged Tritec to work with property owners who want to join the Hub project. "The property owners would like to have had guarantees of participating in the project instead of outsiders coming in, instead of uprooting these families and their livelihoods," Newman said Friday.

But Coughlan said at the meeting that the project is not set up to allow small businesses to participate in the development phase. "It's very difficult for an individual to join us," he said.

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Robert Loscalzo, Tritec's chief operating officer, revealed some details about the scale of the project. The buildings will have an average height of three stories, with retail concentrated along Railroad Avenue, he said. Residential buildings will be three or four stories, with spaces for rental, owner-occupied and assisted-living apartments, Loscalzo said.

The design will usher pedestrians to the retail options. "We purposely set back the entertainment options off Main Street" to create foot traffic, Loscalzo said.

Brookhaven planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli said the Hub will mesh with the village's infrastructure. "We always saw these projects as complementary," Bertoli said, describing the Hub as "a rebirth of the old Ronkonkoma."

Local historical societies are also consulting on the aesthetic design of the buildings, Loscalzo said.