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Editorial: Reopened theater signals a new act for Westbury

The Space at Westbury is pictured at 250

The Space at Westbury is pictured at 250 Post Ave. in Westbury. (Dec. 18, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Officials cut the ribbon this week on a new performing arts theater in Westbury Village. Bravo. But the theater offers more than the promise of a new venue for concerts. Village officials call it a milestone in their ongoing downtown revitalization.

After Roosevelt Field and The Source malls sucked much of the commercial life out of Post Avenue, Westbury officials about 10 years ago started planning a comeback. There are new facades on storefronts and more parking. Hundreds of newly built condos and apartments by the train station a few blocks away offer the possibility of an influx of young professionals, increased foot traffic downtown -- and customers.

Now comes The Space at Westbury, a $10-million refurbishment of the 1927 theater, once a majestic downtown icon that closed more than a decade ago. It has its own success story. The developer funded the renovation privately, the village made accommodations on parking, and Nassau County came through with a tax break to be phased out over 10 years.

Village officials expect outsiders to come -- by car and train -- for the shows and, hopefully, a bite before or after. Whether that happens depends on the quality of the entertainment and the price of tickets. The theater is off to a good start -- music acts Fountains of Wayne and Soul Asylum on opening night Oct. 4, concerts by Rickie Lee Jones and Dr. John later in the month, a partnership with promoter The Bowery Presents.

There's more at stake. Westbury's business improvement district is offering cash incentives to specialty shops and national chains to open outlets; village officials say some businesses are waiting to see how the theater does. But a sushi place and a cafe are in the pipeline.

Using the arts to help generate and sustain growth has worked to varying degrees in Suffolk -- Northport, Patchogue, Riverhead -- but this is a new and exciting development for central Nassau. Success in Westbury could provide a model for the transformation of other aging downtowns.


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