A public ice skating rink will be part of a warehouse...

A public ice skating rink will be part of a warehouse complex planned at the site of the former Dowling College's aviation school in Shirley. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A New Jersey developer wants to turn Dowling College's former Shirley aviation school into a public athletic complex with an ice skating rink as part of a planned warehouse development, Brookhaven Town officials said last week.

The Morristown-based Hampshire Venture Partners plans to build the rink and a 596,000-square-foot warehouse on a 105-acre site off William Floyd Parkway, where Dowling had operated its aeronautics school before the college declared bankruptcy and folded in 2016 due to mounting debt and declining enrollment. 

The property has been little used since Dowling closed.

Hampshire would build the rink and refurbish the former athletic fields on the property, Brookhaven Supervisor Dan Panico said, adding the rink and ballfields would be donated to the town as a public park. Brookhaven plans to hire a separate company to manage the park, Panico said. 

“We don’t have any indoor ice skating rinks" in that area, Panico said, adding there are long wait times for rinks elsewhere in Suffolk County. "You’re skating at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning sometimes.”

It was unclear Monday what tenants would occupy the warehouse. Attempts to reach Hampshire officials were unsuccessful.

Hampshire is in contract to buy the property, said Christopher E. Kent, the Hauppauge lawyer for the current owner, Triple Five Aviation Industries LLC.

Triple Five — a subsidiary of Canada-based Triple Five Worldwide, whose holdings include the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the Mall of America in Minnesota — paid $14 million in 2018 to buy the site out of bankruptcy. The property included a 70-room dormitory, an athletic complex, a two-building office and classroom complex, and a 7,500-square-foot airplane hangar. 

Triple Five briefly leased part of the site to e-commerce giant Amazon for driver training and parking as part of a 13-year redevelopment plan approved by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which had approved a package of tax breaks to advance the project.

Triple Five withdrew from the project in 2021 when IDA officials said the company had failed to meet a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline for either rebuilding there or finding new tenants.

Town and community leaders said the rink would fill a need for skating facilities in the Shirley area.

"We need a lot more recreation in this community," said Beth Wahl, president of William Floyd Community Summit, a civic group, adding there were no other ice rinks in the area and few public parks with baseball and soccer fields. 

“Everybody here has to use school properties” for games and practices, she said. “This will free up space and give the other groups the opportunity” to schedule more sports events. 

She didn't think there would be widespread opposition to the warehouse. “I don’t think anybody will be too concerned, other than trucks going in and out,” Wahl said.

The town board has scheduled a Feb. 22 public hearing to consider a zoning change for the property. The site, currently zoned for residential uses, would be rezoned for light industrial development.

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