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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

One step forward, one step back for Long Beach Superblock project

The Superblock lot between Long Beach and Riverside

The Superblock lot between Long Beach and Riverside boulevards in Long Beach is pictured on Jan. 1, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

The latest iteration of “Let’s Make a Deal: Long Beach Superblock” stalled out Monday afternoon when Nassau County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Richie Kessel and his board postponed a meeting scheduled for Tuesday night to discuss developer Engel Burman’s request for a $52 million tax break. 

But the latest Superblock attempt also picked up valuable support from a local power broker, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, who had railed against, and even sued over, the last Superblock plan and its requested $109 million tax break.

Developer Engel Burman now plans to build 200 condos and 238 apartments on the oceanfront parcel, along with some retail space and a 1,000-car parking garage. The company’s quest for the $52 million break was to be presented to the public via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, but the schedule has been beset by obstacles from the start.

First, the IDA scheduled the meeting to start 30 minutes before the regularly scheduled Long Beach City Council meeting, also being held via video conference.

Kessel then floated a plan to hold a second video meeting on the deal Wednesday afternoon, and the city also moved its meeting to Wednesday evening to avoid the original conflict. None of this met Kessel’s original promise, made in April, that the plan would be discussed at a well-publicized hearing attended by an in-person audience. Kessel said the coronavirus and the need of the developers to get started made that impossible, as even a plan he’d considered to hold the hearing outdoors and socially distanced proved unworkable.

But this all became irrelevant Monday when Long Beach leaders told Kessel they think the plan would cost the city more than it would bring into its coffers. Kessel agreed to postpone so the city could make its case, which also will give any taxpayers who dislike the deal a better chance to say so.

Kessel says he doesn’t see how the city’s numbers can be right, but wants to hear out city officials before he moves forward. And he says postponing, perhaps until August, will give the deal more of a full airing and hopefully create the opportunity for a traditional public hearing.

This is the third serious attempt in the past five years to build on the site. The first two involved a company called iStar, which sought and was granted height variances to build 522 luxury apartments, then claimed it absolutely could not go forward without $129 million in tax breaks. When that plan failed thanks to a public outcry over granting tax breaks for luxury oceanfront apartments, iStar came back with a new plan, saying it could not go forward without $109 million in breaks.

This iteration created even more of an outcry, and D’Amato spoke out against it and was the attorney representing Long Beach residents in a lawsuit meant to stop the deal, until the IDA did so itself.

But D’Amato, who along with his brother and son has had a stake in an Engel Burman project in the past, said Monday he has no financial involvement in Superblock but is fine with the plan.

In an email, D’Amato told The Point: “Their proposal is reasonable. They aren’t looking for a variance, and what they are asking for makes sense … These are the actual developers who have spent months briefing the community about their plan and the economics of their proposal.”

Said Kessel, “We won’t do this deal if the City of Long Beach doesn’t support it. They’ve got a lot of information to go over, and then we’ll have to see where they stand.”

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