It's easy to point to Long Island's housing and development failures.
But amid those shortcomings, a new community, a downtown near a train station, is rising.
Phase after phase, year after year, the Ronkonkoma Hub, the $1 billion mixed-use development now called Station Yards, is emerging. It eventually is expected to feature 1,450 units of housing, plus hundreds of thousands of square feet of office, medical, retail, and hospitality space — even as Tritec Real Estate principals Jim and Robert Coughlan re-imagine the space and the timing of how everything will be built in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing face of retail.
Meanwhile, to the south of the train tracks, there's bubbling hope that a different development team will succeed in building Midway Crossing, a mix of life sciences facilities, a convention center, and more that should complement the Station Yards effort.
Getting to this point hasn't been easy. Jim Coughlan notes that for his first 26 years in business, the region lacked the appetite for anything residential. But over the last decade, Tritec has built about 2,000 housing units Islandwide, in Patchogue, Bay Shore, Lindenhurst, Port Jefferson and, of course, Ronkonkoma.
Coughlan, however, recognizes that's just a fraction of what the region needs.
"We need a lot more housing," Coughlan said. "If we built enough housing, we wouldn't have an affordability issue."
Coughlan wants to be part of that. But … and there's a very big "but":
"We only want to go where we're wanted," he said. "Long Island is a very, very difficult place to get things approved. We need to go where the community is behind it, where the leaders of the community groups are behind it, and where the elected officials and political leaders in that community want it."
Those words are particularly telling in light of Gov. Kathy Hochul's recent housing proposals, which include a denser zoning requirement near train stations and state overrides when a community doesn't grow itself, and which depend on the developers who would plan and build the needed units.
Coughlan said Hochul deserves praise for "identifying, highlighting, and championing the issue."
But, he said, any program "needs to include local input."
Tritec won't build without community buy-in. But, Coughlan says, that can and does happen, pointing to Ronkonkoma and Patchogue.
"It's not a secret sauce," he assures.
Sometimes, it starts with a community seeking to trade blight for something better. Or, a local elected official welcomes the developer — then make the connections to civic groups, chambers of commerce, and others.
The recipe has several ingredients.
First? "A really good suit of armor," Coughlan jokes lightly.
You must listen to and educate the community, he said — with an emphasis on the listening. Mix in efforts to participate and engage in the area neighborhoods, and support local businesses and causes.
Then, add in patience and persistence. Or, as Coughlan said: "Try like crazy to make it work."
There's one more thing Coughlan emphasizes.
"We're never going to get it done if we try to keep pushing this number of units or that style or this mix," he said. "It's all about being wanted by the community and then living up to being wanted by the community."
It's a set of ingredients for Hochul to remember, too.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.