By GREGORY ZELLER //
Like millions of other annual visitors, Gov. Andrew Cuomo went to Jones Beach on Wednesday. But unlike most of those day-trippers, the governor was on a mission.
The restored Jones Beach Marine Dining Room – now known as The Landing at Jones Beach – took center stage as Cuomo touted not only the grand reopening, but hundreds of millions of dollars in state-park improvements being made across New York.
For the second time in just a few hours, Cuomo basked in applause and recounted the economic-development progress his administration has made on Long Island, this time trumpeting improvements made under his NY Parks 2020 initiative, a multiyear, nearly-billion-dollar effort to bring New York’s state parks system up to snuff.
Earlier Wednesday, the governor was in Hicksville to announce the hamlet had won the regional round of the state’s second-annual Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This time, the governor’s hook was the The Landing at Jones Beach, restored to its original Marine Dining Room architecture and upgraded with a host of modern amenities – plus a menu featuring kung pao calamari and crab sandwiches – as part of $65 million in state-funded improvements being made to Jones Beach State Park.
The new facility, part of the state park’s West Bathhouse and managed by New York City-based food-services firm COFFEED, officially opened July 27, marking a major comeback for a once-proud facility, Cuomo said Wednesday.
“It was destroyed, basically,” the short-sleeved governor told the audience gathered inside the sun-splashed dining room. “To see it come back to grandeur fills my heart with a sense of pride.”
Pride, or lack of it, has been the problem, according to Cuomo. Recalling New York State’s once “breathtaking” infrastructure ambitions – including the 19th century construction of the Erie Canal, the turn-of-the-20th-century construction of the 600-mile New York City subway system and the post-World War II construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, then the world’s longest suspension bridge – Cuomo suggested complacency had taken hold of the Empire State.
One result of those dwindling ambitions, he added, is a state park system that’s fallen behind the times.
“We disrespected our legacy,” Cuomo said. “Now, we are restoring it.”
In 2015, to modernize the entire state parks system – one of the largest in the nation, the governor noted – Cuomo launched NY Parks 2020, which would leverage approximately $900 million in public and private funding. He thereby became the first governor in more than 40 years to include state park funds in New York’s annual capital budget.
Including, but not limited to, 31 flagship state parks, the initiative focuses on accessibility, safety and infrastructure improvements that both promote the state parks as recreation destinations for New York residents and serve as an economic-development tool designed specifically to attract out-of-state dollars.
On Long Island, the effort extends to Bethpage State Park, Sunken Meadow State Park and several other registered parklands. Improvements include the installation of solar-powered electricity generators for parking lot lighting, the construction of new bathhouses and boardwalks, the inclusion of “sensory gardens” for disabled and non-disabled visitors and other fresh amenities – including, at Jones Beach State Park, a top-to-bottom refit of the Marine Dining Room.
In many ways, the governor noted, Jones Beach is the poster child for the great ambition that once marked New York infrastructure development and the decades of disinterest that followed – making the refurbished dining room’s grand re-opening a strong symbol of Albany’s desire to restore the glory of the state park system.
“[Jones Beach] was a masterpiece,” Cuomo said in his speech. “This was seven miles of swamp, essentially. They brought in 14 feet of fill for the entire seven miles to raise it up and build a beach.
“Just imagine, how ambitious an undertaking that was,” he added. “We couldn’t even envision that kind of boldness today.”
But what was once an “international icon” fell from that pedestal along with the rest of the state park system, according to the governor – hence, NY Parks 2020 and its $900-million-plus war chest.
“After 40 or 50 years of neglect, it takes that much to bring [the parks] back to what they were,” Cuomo noted.
A $65 million chunk of that total is earmarked for Jones Beach State Park, which in addition to new food choices – and beautiful ocean views – at the restored Marine Dining Room is incorporating a number of updated amenities: automated parking facilities, new hiking trails, a refortified boardwalk and more.
“We’re going to bring it back to its original majesty, from one end of the beach to the other,” Cuomo said Wednesday.
This is a major benefit to New York residents – Cuomo was practically handing out transit schedules during his speech, highlighting restored MTA bus services connecting Jones Beach and the Long Island Rail Road’s Freeport station – but it cannot be overestimated as a tourism generator, the governor noted.
“This is a great economic-development tool,” he said. “We had 500,000 more visitors to the beach since we started the rehabilitation, about 6 million visitors total.
“And we get 20 million tourists who come to Long Island (annually), and they bring spirit and personality and diversity and $55 billion in economic activity,” Cuomo added. “Jones Beach should be, once again, an international tourist destination.”