The village of Hempstead has been waiting. And waiting.
Yet efforts to redevelop its downtown, revitalize its shops, restaurants and office space, add affordable and market-rate housing, expand its tax base, create jobs and energize its economy have been stuck — for years.
Now, village residents have voted for change, electing Mayor Waylyn Hobbs Jr. over four-year incumbent Don Ryan. They're relying on Hobbs, and new trustees Clariona Griffith and Kevin Boone, to succeed where others before them have failed — to reach compromises with developers, find a middle ground on the tricky question of tax breaks and, ultimately, get shovels in the ground.
It's a lot to ask. But Hobbs seems to understand that he has to act swiftly, and lead differently.
Hobbs rightly sees his mission as being about more than just redevelopment. He knows residents are counting on the small but important functions the village provides, from answering constituents' calls to cleaning up the trash.
But the village will truly move forward only if Hobbs also tackles the larger issues and nurtures a vision of what the village can become.
That starts with improving the village's infrastructure, particularly water and sewers. A study on the village's needs is almost done. Federal dollars should help with improvements, as can private investment from developers themselves. Also key: establishing a partnership between village leaders and business owners who want to be part of its renaissance, but need a boost.
It'll be important, too, for village residents to enjoy the benefits, especially in terms of jobs. That means making sure that many temporary construction jobs as well as permanent jobs go to local job seekers. The village also should coordinate with its neighbors, like Hofstra University and the Nassau Hub.
In some cases, there are enormous hurdles to overcome, including the ongoing litigation in the master development partnership of Renaissance Downtowns and RXR Realty.
But there are also existing projects that just need final approvals. That includes agreements on tax breaks which, at times, will be necessary to get substantive and needed development done. Ryan's strategy — reject nearly every proposal involving payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs, and say no to even the best plans — left the village stagnant. A middle ground is needed, guided by community feedback. Hobbs is fond of talking about the need to distinguish between good PILOTs and bad PILOTs, and seems ready to work with developers to find innovative solutions. That's exactly what Hempstead needs.
But vision takes more. It means letting community interests organically take root and finding seed money to help develop cultural attractions, a vibrant arts and music scene, and restaurants and shopping.
There's a lot to do. The region's business leaders, planners and advocates should make themselves available to help. With such assistance, combined with persistence and strong leadership, Hobbs can turn Hempstead into a premier destination downtown.
— The editorial board