Fifty years ago, the Village of Hempstead was an economic hub. It was home to large shops and busy streets, a town center that was a symbol of Long Island’s growth and what was possible. In the decades that followed, businesses left, people moved, times changed. The village became home to too many empty commercial lots, too much gang-related crime, and too few economic opportunities.
There’s been talk of revitalizing the village for more than 10 years. For every pretty rendering and energetic presentation, there’ve been problems, protests and criticism. This month brought a big step for the current $2.5 billion revitalization plan, which includes apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel and parking. The developers acquired 14 parking lots from the village in exchange for $8 million over the next 10 years. Construction should start next spring. It’s a potentially transformative moment. Maybe, just maybe, anything will be possible again.
Imagine, for instance, if the planned housing and retail could become a university village of sorts in Hempstead, where faculty and students from area colleges could live. That’ll need the backing of schools like Adelphi and Hofstra. Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz said he supports the effort. But he and others must get more involved to move the project forward. Imagine, too, if Hempstead Village developers and public officials coordinate with Nassau County’s plans for Nassau Coliseum land, so someday, biotech and medical labs at the Hub could employ workers who live in Hempstead Village’s new downtown.
Political and community leaders must come together, be creative, and keep larger goals in mind.
This is about the village’s future. Mayor Wayne Hall says the development can create jobs, restore a depleted tax base, and spark new life in his community. Despite detractors, Hall and developer Donald Monti, of Renaissance Downtowns, haven’t wavered. Neither has given up, even amid resident worries over gentrification, criticism from Hempstead Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby over infrastructure, worries over financing or moments of tragedy. Monti’s partner, developer Scott Rechler of RXR Realty, adds credibility, experience and a deeply held view that it’s important to rejuvenate the Island’s downtowns while maintaining their characters and diversity.
It’s been a long road full of bumps and bruises. There’s still more to be done, from securing financing and improving infrastructure to rallying the community around the plans and actually getting something built. But Hall’s courage, Monti’s perseverance and Rechler’s know-how may be the combination to make this $2.5 billion project a reality. If it succeeds, it will create jobs, particularly for the village’s own young men and women who need the work. It will add commercial development to an area where 30 percent of property is off the tax roll. It will add vitality to a neighborhood too often associated with crime and poverty.
You can’t solve all problems with a dig of a shovel. The village needs partners in its school system, police department and community organizations. But it’s time to move this project past the obstacles. This is a moment that comes too rarely. Hempstead Village must seize it and make it a turning point for a community that so badly needs one.