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OpinionEditorial

Republic Airport can be an economic engine for Long Island

This is a rendering of the new Sheltair

This is a rendering of the new Sheltair Aviation hangar to be built at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. Groundbreaking for the $55 million project is slated for later this year. Credit: Sheltair Aviation

We’re past the point of hoping for economic development on the land at the edges of Republic Airport. Now, it’s a must-do.

By pressing reset on a stalled effort and issuing a new request for proposals last week, New York State has a chance to finally get this right.

This is about far more than just Republic Airport, or the dozens of idle acres around it. What happens at this ideally located state property will ripple through much of central Long Island. Successful development could be the catalyst for creating a high-tech corridor up and down Route 110. It could boost academic and economic efforts at Farmingdale State College, where the Broadhollow Bioscience Park sits practically empty. And additional plans to reopen the airport’s Long Island Rail Road stop, as well as to create a separate mixed-use, transit-oriented development there, could help.

The promise and potential exist.

But if the project fails, any waves of change and redevelopment in the area could die before they even start. The inability to redevelop Republic would be a disturbing sign of the region’s failure to transform itself.

The new request for proposals covers five parcels totaling more than 40 acres. The state seeks developers focused on aviation-related industries, or those that are “compatible.” If the businesses qualify for the Start-Up New York program, they could operate tax-free for a decade.

But significant questions remain. The new request separates the property’s development from the operation of the airport, and it shifts leadership from the state Department of Transportation to Empire State Development. It will take a massive amount of communication and coordination to cut through bureaucracy, make state agencies work together, and overcome potential community objections and other hurdles.

And Empire State Development’s recent track record gives us pause. Take Belmont Park, where the department issued an RFP in 2012 for some adjacent land. Four bidders responded. But with the property mired in political squabbles, Empire State Development never even made a decision.

At Republic, a clear and fast-moving timeline is essential. Developers should apply with specific, creative plans. Then, state officials must decide by June, as promised in the request for proposals, and everyone must move forward to get shovels in the ground.

Empire State Development must lead at Republic and make the property and the 110 corridor an economic development success story.

— The editorial board

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