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OpinionEditorial

Editorial: Finally, we're on the move

Long Island projects are finally on the move.

Long Island projects are finally on the move. Photo Credit: Martin Kozlowski

The beginning of a new year is a time for big thoughts, and few are bigger than this:

Something's happening here.

It's a little shocking but impossible to deny: Long Island finally is shaking off its "Land of No" shackles and making the kind of development progress that once was inconceivable.

All across the region, from Glen Cove to Wyandanch, from Ronkonkoma to Hempstead, large-scale projects are steadily moving forward. This is important, not just because these developments are huge, but because collectively they can transform the region.

Simply put, the model of suburban living that served Long Island for decades can no longer sustain us as our only model. The new offerings will provide a lifestyle attractive to young people as well as senior citizens, both of whom have been leaving Long Island. And if our young adults, in particular, stay here, businesses hungry for young, diverse, entrepreneurial talent are likely to follow.

Fantasy Island meet Real Life in the 21st Century.

Glen Cove -- The $1-billion Garvies Point project will redevelop the city's waterfront, with 860 residential units, a 250-suite hotel, 75,000 square feet of commercial and retail space, and 19 acres of public amenities and open space, on 56 acres of former industrial brownfield. The development from RXR Realty should break ground on phase one in the spring.

Hempstead -- A $2.5-billion downtown redevelopment includes apartments, shops, restaurants, an entertainment complex and a hotel. Developers RXR and Renaissance Downtowns expect to break ground later this year on the first phase, two five-floor apartment buildings with 336 units.

Wyandanch -- A $500-million public-private revitalization is underway, with tenants expected to move into 177 apartments in two buildings next month. Developer Albanese Organization is signing leases with commercial tenants such as Roslyn Savings Bank, all part of the project's first phase.

Ronkonkoma Hub -- Phase one of a $475-million project to rehabilitate the area around the Long Island Rail Road station is expected to begin by early summer. Plans by Tritec Real Estate call for up to 1,450 apartments and 545,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Huntington Station -- Another RXR-Renaissance partnership, this revitalization project includes a 140-room hotel, a 100,000-square-foot office building, a 49-unit artist loft complex, rental apartments and retail space. Its progress lags slightly that of the other projects.

Put this in perspective. Seven years ago, Newsday's editorial board took a similar look at 14 big projects proposed for Long Island. None have come to fruition. Most are dead. The only one that still has a real pulse is Heartland Town Square, the granddaddy of transformative projects. Gerald Wolkoff's $4-billion plan for 9,000 apartments and 4 million square feet of restaurants, hotels, shops, cinemas and office space on 450 acres in Brentwood is steadily chugging forward. Getting it to the finish line will be another boon for Long Island.

So, what's changed?

Several things, actually. Our shifting demographics hit home for more people as aging baby boomers and young adults continued to flee. The recession wore down our resistance to change, and some gutsy leaders embraced it. Developers began working more closely with communities and made smarter pitches -- proposing, for example, to revitalize blighted areas, build near train stations, and construct in phases to account for changing conditions. Each project mentioned earlier fits that model.

And a growing number of communities began to understand that not everybody craves a single-family home, and that building a little more densely in some places -- call it pocket urbanization -- could preserve the traditional Long Island lifestyle everywhere else. Smaller-scale revitalizations, like Patchogue, provided the real-life proof.

The result is a new model with the potential to help resurrect the Long Island dream. It comes at an auspicious time.

Traditionally, Long Island benefits when New York City is suffering -- in the latter part of the 20th century, hordes fled the city's ills. But now New York is roaring economically, drawing people and businesses seeking the lifestyle and talent. With housing costs continuing to rise as demand outstrips supply, many city residents inevitably will face a decision: Leave the metropolitan area, or leave the city but stay in the area.

The projects underway here increase the chances that Long Island can be the city's safety valve, the place young professionals look to as an alternative with its walkable downtowns and easy access to dining, shopping and trains into the city. And if these young people choose to live here, they'll attract the technology and creative industries that seek them. That would be a game-changer that would create jobs, increase the tax base, and set up Long Island to compete economically in the 21st century.

Other developments that complement the projects boost the feeling of optimism. Suffolk is embarking on ambitious plans for more sewers, an important infrastructure advance. A second railroad track is being built between Farmingdale and the Ronkonkoma Hub, and it passes through Wyandanch, a welcome example of symbiosis. And, hopefully, the region will soon receive a healthy chunk of the state's $5 billion in bank settlement/surplus money for projects like an outfall pipe for the Bay Park sewage treatment plant, more sewers for Suffolk, and widening the Sagtikos Parkway to handle both existing traffic and Heartland.

What's happening might jar residents accustomed to wallowing in despair about Long Island's future. The battle is far from won, true, but at least it's been joined.

It took a long time to dig the hole we're in. It's going to take a long time to dig out. But we've started digging. That's worth celebrating . . . and then getting back to work.

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