Friday, April 08, 2005

The Magical Mystery Bus Tour

County Exec's Economic Development Plan Needs To Move Forward

Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, concluded yet another Road Trip promoting his much touted Strategic Economic Development Program with a bus ride through Lakeview and Malverne. Indeed, since the Economic Development Plan was announced in 2003, Mr. Suozzi has toured most if not all of the 35 Economic Development Zones established under his stewardship, hosting town-hall style meetings in the respective communities, giving local advocates and John Q. Public the opportunity not only to hear and reflect upon his ambitious plans, but to stick in their 2-cents as well.

Having toured the County, heard from and spoken with residents, and gotten a lay of the land, the time has come for Mr. Suozzi and his economic development team to get off the bus, and to start putting the Strategic Plan in motion. What Mr. Suozzi has planned for and been openly discussing over the past three and a half years should, during the course of the next four, be transformed from glowing vision to a real and lasting symbol of Nassau’s rebirth and resurgence as America’s premier county.

The “Main Streets” of our towns and hamlets, given short shrift when the plug was pulled on the “Operation Downtown” initiative under the prior County administration, and paid little more than lip service and a fa├žade facial by townships within the County, cry out for revitalization and the infusion of new life. An extreme makeover is necessary to convert the brownfields, reclaim that which the big box stores have literally driven away, and create a neighborhood environment conducive not only to pedestrian traffic, but to a suburban lifestyle that beckons us back to the heart of community – to live, to work, to shop.

Other concerns, including but not limited to Nassau’s transportation mess, the hubbub of the Hub, the preservation and restoration of our public parks and open spaces, and the growing property tax dilemma, now coming to the fore through similarly bold and innovative proposals, must likewise be forcefully pursed with equal zeal.

Yes, Mr. Suozzi can, at times, be brash and outspoken – often exuding a self-assurance bordering on arrogance. His ideas are big, and his mouth, every so often, bigger. At a time of fiscal conservatism and restraint, Mr. Suozzi talks of creating jobs, rebuilding an aging infrastructure, and bringing the American Dream of affordable housing to all who would call our fair county “home.”

Visions of grandeur? Perhaps. But in a county where we have left things go for far too long – closing our eyes to the problems while simply hoping for the best – throwing a few brick pavers and a couple of vintage lamp-posts at the Turnpikes, the Avenues and the Boulevards just won’t do the trick.

Frankly, its going to take “big,” even in the face of the naysayers who, for as long as one can remember, have always thought small. Nassau County needs a renaissance that only grand vision can bring. A 60-story lighthouse at the foot of the Coliseum? Perhaps not. Or maybe, just maybe, that’s just what we need – in one incarnation or another. One thing’s for sure – economic empowerment in a county that has seen its financial might and suburban allure erode and slip away won't come with quiet platitudes. We cannot stand still if we want to regain our footing as the most desirable place to live in America, and we dare not go back to the mindset of benign neglect that brought our County to its knees and to the brink.

In terms of Economic Development – and the redevelopment envisioned by our County Executive - the bus stops here. We need to do more than call forth the slings and arrows, as Mr. Suozzi's detractors are known to do, seeking to derail worthy objectives without further. We, as proponents of a truly new and thriving Nassau County, need to get off that bus and start walking. The time has come to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

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