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OpinionEditorial

Ronkonkoma Hub plan smart

The proposal includes adding a new MacArthur Airport

The proposal includes adding a new MacArthur Airport terminal, north of the existing one, above, that would connect to the LIRR's Ronkonkoma Station. Credit: Newsday/Don Jacobsen

The new proposal for the Islip Town portion of the Ronkonkoma Hub might just be the best combination of ideas for the site yet, using some of the most desirable prior suggestions, while eliminating the non-starters of the past.

It's big thinking, and the region needs more of it. But for the plan to come to fruition, public and private officials have to work together in a clear, open process that avoids surprises and provides ample opportunity for input from residents.

In Suffolk County's latest pitch, the site would include a convention center, a hotel, commercial office space, a small sports and entertainment complex and, perhaps most significant, the holy grail of a new terminal on Long Island MacArthur Airport's north side that could connect to the Long Island Rail Road's Ronkonkoma stop.

What it wouldn't include, thankfully: the once-envisioned 17,500-seat hockey arena and participation by Suffolk's controversial one-time development partner Ray Bartoszek, with an entity known as Ronkonkoma Vision Project.

That bodes well. But while the county has fully engaged Islip Town in the planning, the same apparently can't be said for the Suffolk Legislature; Republican lawmakers said they hadn't been briefed on the latest proposals and still had questions about the community's involvement.

To bring a plan of this magnitude to fruition, even if it's the best possible use of the area, will require far greater communication with all stakeholders. It'll be important for Suffolk officials to involve the legislature, residents and town officials every step of the way and to do enough public outreach that no individuals or groups can claim they didn't know.

That has to start soon. The legislature is due to formalize the county-town partnership on the effort next week.

Both Suffolk and Islip are relying on a Chicago company, Jones Lang LaSalle, to serve as master developer of the property and of the new terminal. There's a lot on the company's to-do list, including addressing the plan's impact on sewer needs and traffic, obtaining necessary federal approvals for the airport expansion, and more, before any shovel goes into the ground.

Nonetheless, Suffolk's commitment to finding a mix of uses that works, its particular inclusion of the critical airport terminal expansion, and its determination not to give up even after significant, legitimate criticism of the county's 2018 plan, which absurdly focused on drawing a National Hockey League team to Suffolk, are welcome.

This is a chance for county and town officials to learn from others who've tried to go big and to get this project right. To the west, a swath of Belmont Park went from parking lot to new arena, while the Nassau Hub remains a layer of asphalt. Suffolk and Islip must find ways to make sure this parcel becomes one of the region's success stories.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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