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With Jerry Wolkoff's death, what will happen to Heartland?

Developer Jerry Wolkoff is seen on June 14,

Developer Jerry Wolkoff is seen on June 14, 2017. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Developer Jerry Wolkoff, who fought for decades to build Heartland Town Square in Brentwood, was a powerhouse among Long Island’s developers.

But with Wolkoff’s death at age 83, the question for Heartland — and for Long Island’s continued need for housing and other development — is: Now what? 

“Jerry had a passion for that project, more than I’ve seen any developer have a passion for any other project in our region,” Long Island Association chief executive Kevin Law told The Point Monday. “Jerry never gave up.”

“I think the only reason [Heartland] has gotten as far along as it has is because of Jerry’s passion and commitment,” Law said. “And that’s going to be tough to replace. Whether it’s Jerry’s sons … remains to be seen.”

Jerry’s son, David, is likely to take the helm, and Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, who had worked with Jerry Wolkoff in her current position and other capacities since he first purchased the Pilgrim State property in 2002, said she expected the younger Wolkoff to take on the effort with a strong desire to get it done.

“I can’t imagine that he would not do everything in his power to see that this happens for his dad, as a tribute to his dad,” Carpenter said. 

Long Island business and building leaders said they see Heartland as critical to the region’s economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As more people may choose to move to the Island for a suburban lifestyle, Heartland’s “live, work, play” combination might become even more desirable in the months and years to come, they said.

But Heartland continues to face challenges, including a lawsuit from the Brentwood school district and doubts from the Suffolk County Legislature over a necessary sewer connection.  And whether the scale and design of the project will need to be changed as one fallout of the pandemic remains to be seen, part of the broader challenge to reimagine how we build for the post-pandemic future.

“This project is more important now than ever. It’s more important today than it was when Jerry Wolkoff proposed it,” said Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitch Pally. “This project is going to get built. Unfortunately, it couldn’t get built while Jerry was alive, but it will get built and it will have the soul of Jerry in it and I’m hopeful David will make that happen.”