Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As The Argo Goes (Or Not), So Goes Elmont

Sweating The Small Stuff's Important, Too

When folks think -- and leaders talk -- revitalization in Elmont, gateway to Nassau County, its often Belmont Racetrack that comes to mind.

That, of course, is a major undertaking, in and of itself, its advent, most assuredly, changing Elmont, hopefully for the better.

But what of those smaller projects, initiatives that truly impact upon Main Street, and could, relatively quickly -- if officialdom were so inclined -- improve quality of life immeasurably, long before Belmont's anticipated renaissance ever breaks ground.

Take, as a prime example, the old Argo movie theater, once a centerpiece of community life in Elmont, then a downscale 99 cent store, now little more than an eyesore and an invitation to the blighting of the surrounding business district.

All the Elmont community has asked for here is a supermarket, something sorely missed and much needed.

Everyone, from community activists to elected representatives say they are for converting the Argo into a supermarket, not only as a place for residents to buy groceries, but moreover, as cornerstone of further redevelopment.

Urban Renewal Plans (for suburbia?) are concocted. Blight studies are commissioned. Site Plans are drawn up. Press releases abound.

And yet, in practical terms, nothing, nada, zip.

The Elmont Coalition for Sustainable development has been visioning for two years now. What is there to show for it?

Sustainable Long Island has showcased Elmont's purported (if not contorted) road to revival, seemingly since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown. There are photos of plans to show for it, but not much else.

The State, by way of grants from the Legislature (remember the State Legislature? They used to work in Albany), has laid the seed money -- some $2.5 million waiting in the wings -- but not a penny has gone toward shovel hitting pavement.

It would seem, at least to this observer of community, that the only thing being sustained in Elmont is the status quo!

So, what's holding up the works on much needed downtown redevelopment?

Could it be litigation spearheaded by the owners of the Argo, looking to squeeze more money out of Town of Hempstead taxpayers, holding an entire community hostage?

Or, is it merely the Town of Hempstead itself -- more aptly, the Supervisor, Kate Murray -- holding up the show, as has been done in similarly situated unincorporated outposts throughout the township?

"We're committed to making Elmont an even better place to live, work, and raise a family." So said Supervisor Murray, on many an occasion.

Oh, really? Or are you simply substituting Elmont for Baldwin, West Hempstead, or, for that matter, any other hamlet within the sound of your voice and view of your smile, echoing this time-worn incantation, signifying, well, absolutely nothing?

"Its impressive," says Pat Nicolosi, President of the Elmont East End Civic Association and longtime advocate for improvement of Elmont's infrastructure beyond the drawing board, "how so much talk can yield so little action. Who would think that pulling down a dilapidated building and putting up a modern supermarket would be akin to landing a man on Mars?"

Maybe we should make that a woman, Pat. Have anybody in particular in mind?

The Town of Hempstead has taken ownership of the Argo's fate, and, as with myriad other projects now in the hands of those who hold a stranglehold on America's largest and most blighted township -- from the revitalization of Grand Avenue in Baldwin to the demolition of the Courtesy in West Hempstead to the approval, should it ever come, of the Lighthouse project in Uniondale -- fate is most unkind to those who would see the revitalization of the Town's beleaguered downtowns sooner rather than later.

Reached for comment by e-mail, State Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who represents the district where the Argo's show goes on and on and on, stated unequivocally that he supports the community's desire for a grocery in place of the Argo, and wants to see the project move forward now.

From your mouth, Tom, to Supervisor Murray's ears!

Geez. How tough can it be to take down the Argo and put up a supermarket?

In Hempstead Town, apparently, it is far from an easy task.

To paraphrase Kate Murray, "The Urban Renewal Plan will ensure the blight(ed) future of this community for years to come. . ."

As the Argo goes, so goes Elmont? Indeed. And as Elmont goes, so goes the rest of Nassau County!
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Meanwhile, off at the races. . .

Yes, there is a Sustainable Belmont. Unfortunately, it happens to be Belmont, Massachusetts.

There's also Sustainable Belmont, Ontario -- but that's upper U.S.

Closer to home, we can report, based upon our most reliable inside sources, as follows:

The RFP (Request for Proposals) for the economic feasibility study is back and the scoping has started. The economic feasibility study was out a few weeks ago and proposals flowed into the State. There is a lot of interest in the site.

Overall, Belmont is, according to our source at the State level, "coming along real nicely and we anticipate a report which will be the base of the construction RFP plan very shortly. That will include an overall plan with footprint, basic outline with environmental, traffic and economic impacts."

It is important to note, and we do, that the Governor put VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals) in the economic feasibility study.

Empire State Development Corp. (EFD) [yet another of New York's "public" authorities] has, according to our source, been very proactive and has fast-tracked all work for, as per the request of the district's State Legislators. ["Fast," of course, is a relative term when it comes to action by the State of New York!] The Governor has assured State representatives that the RFP and community input phase will grow out of the Coalition for Sustainable Elmont report and will compliment Hempstead Turnpike revitalization plans. [Is that code for, "We'll be scoping this project for decades, and if you think it will ever get off the ground, you should have your head examined?"]

The first grading study done at the behest of the State delegation resulted in a scored rundown of all the different options for the site.

"I can tell you that the Assemblyman (Alfano) is not in favor of a senior facility at the site," said his Chief of Staff, Scott Cushing. "There is already a TOH site that is not occupied behind the Argo. The Belmont site should be a job generator period."

We can also report, confirmed by several sources, that during the State's revitalization task force hearing held by the Assembly at Nassau Coliseum, ESD, labor and utilities have already started the groundwork on the how to's for construction. NYRA has put together a parking plan and mass transit issues from LIRR to LI Bus are already in the mix. Labor leaders have reached out and are looking to see how they can not only assist in the site, but in helping devise a plan that meets community needs and priorities.

On the plan aspects, the main focus, as we understand it, and State officials confirm, is being targeted to the walkable mall concept with restaurants and a movie theatre. A large hotel will be on the North side with banquet facilities and VLT capability. The footprint and so forth will come from the feasibility and economic statement that is due back any day from ESD. This concept was strongly favored by Assemblyman Tom Alfano, County Executive Tom Suozzi, and Hempstead Town Councilman Ed Ambrosino. [Publisher's Note: We cannot speak to or comment on the position taken by TOH Supervisor Kate Murray, if any, as, alas, she was not at the meeting as held at the Elmont Memorial Library. Surprise. Surprise.]

Once a plan is agreed upon after the reports are back, the question remains, how quick can construction begin?

The State, for its part, would like to move quickly to take advantage of any Empire Zone benefits.

If the Town of Hempstead is involved, as would appear to be the case of necessity, don't look for "quickly" any time soon.

Perhaps we could call in the cell phone companies to pre-empt Town authority, providing residents with a truly sustainable Belmont (cell towers erected separately) literally overnight!
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Stay tuned to this blog for updates on Elmont's rise from the ashes of the Argo, and the race to resurrect Belmont and its environs.

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