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Freeport's Nautical Mile in restoration mode after Sandy

Repair work on Hudson & McCoy Fish House

Repair work on Hudson & McCoy Fish House in Freeport, ruined during Sandy, continued Thursday. (April 18, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Much of Freeport's famed Nautical Mile remains in disrepair because of superstorm Sandy, but village officials say almost all of the business district's restaurants and shops will be reopened by Memorial Day.

Freeport officials and business owners admit restoring the Mile in time for the summer season will take an aggressive last-minute push from the village, merchants, and restaurateurs.

Construction crews and restaurant employees have been working feverishly to rebuild since the Oct. 29 storm, but a little less than half of the district's businesses remain closed.

One business owner, Ilona Jagnow of Otto's Sea Grill, said she is $300,000 into the estimated $500,000 job of restoring her restaurant, which her family has owned for more than 80 years and which suffered 5 feet of water damage.

The restaurant, where Jagnow's grandmother made bathtub gin during Prohibition, will be at least partly open by Memorial Day, she said.

"Something has to be open because I need to be able to pay my crew," Jagnow said.

The Nautical Mile runs along Woodcleft Canal on Woodcleft Avenue and is a popular tourist destination because of its restaurants, bars and nightlife. It also holds the annual Freeport Nautical Mile Festival, which attracts more than 150,000 people to the area.

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said the festival is a go this year and is scheduled for June 1, by which time he expects more than 90 percent of the Mile's 58 businesses to be up and running.

All but a few businesses were closed for at least some time after Sandy, Kennedy said. Now, all but "one or two" have pledged to reopen, he said.

Bank loans and insurance have helped owners pay for repairs, Kennedy said, adding it has been each owner's responsibility to repair damaged bulkheading on his or her property.

The village is also in the process of repairing publicly-owned bulkheading, which officials hope the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help pay for, Kennedy said. He said he could not provide an estimate for the cost of the work.

"The Nautical Mile is being rebuilt rapidly," Kennedy said. "The owners have been working tirelessly . . . Every time you come down here there are employees working in at least 15, 20 stores."

A group of Freeport officials and Nautical Mile business owners held a news conference on the Mile Thursday to announce the district's progress in recovering.

Butch Yamali, owner of Hudson & McCoy Fish House, said restaurateurs are relying on each other to rebuild, because the Nautical Mile needs a critical mass of open businesses to be viable.

"We want everybody to be open," Yamali said. "For these people, this is their livelihood."

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