Suffolk County and Brookhaven officials on Monday announced a $2.3 million county grant for infrastructure improvements at the site of a Ronkonkoma development they said may help keep young people from leaving Long Island.
During a news conference at the Long Island Rail Road station that is expected to be the centerpiece of the $475 million Ronkonkoma Hub, County Executive Steve Bellone and other officials said the residential, retail and commercial project would help stanch "brain drain" -- the departure of young residents weary of scarce jobs and a lack of housing they can afford.
"You can shop, you can go to work, you can walk to a job," Bellone said of the Hub project, which would be built on about 50 acres between the Long Island Expressway and Long Island MacArthur Airport. "This is all about the future of Long Island, building the connections and creating the places where people want to stay.
"If we are a region that cannot attract and retain young people, we are a region in decline."
Construction is expected to start next year, after Brookhaven Town approves site plans and building permits, said Rob Loscalzo, chief operating officer of East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate, which is building the project.
When completed in about a decade, the Hub is expected to feature up to 1,450 apartments and 545,000 square feet of retail and office space. Many of the apartments will be priced to appeal to young people and seniors, officials have said.
The county grant is expected to help Tritec plan infrastructure upgrades such as wider roads, improved curbs and new sewer lines, officials said. The grant is part of a $5 million package -- including subsidies for economic development projects in Wyandanch, Huntington Station and Smithtown -- that is expected to be voted on by the county legislature on Oct. 7.
County Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) said Long Islanders pay millions in tax dollars to support local schools -- only to see many students leave when they grow up.
"They move to other communities where they have better opportunities," he said. "We need to build communities where they want to live, where they want to work. This is one of those communities."
As officials spoke, a small group of protesters held signs expressing opposition to possibly seizing land for the Hub by eminent domain. Town officials have said they don't plan to condemn property for the project.
Theodore Imbasciani, president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association, who attended the news conference, said the organization supports the Hub despite concerns about the impact of traffic on local roads. He said the improvements should allay his worries.
"I don't want this to be a blighted area," he said.
Proposed Suffolk County grants for economic development projects
$2.3 million: Ronkonkoma Hub
$2.25 million: Wyandanch Rising
$200,000: Smithtown central business district
$250,000: Huntington Station
$5 million: total grants