By GREGORY ZELLER //
The retail side of the Wyandanch Rising redevelopment project isn’t ascending as quickly as the residential side – but the imbalance has created a unique workforce-development opportunity, and Suffolk County is looking to pounce.
The county on Friday applied to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council for funding to open a technology-focused co-working operation in the Town of Babylon’s ambitious Wyandanch redevelopment project, a smart growth-fueled, mixed-use remaking of 142 acres featuring 170-plus residential units, a public plaza (with ice skating rink) and tens of thousands of square feet of commercial space.
Suffolk’s plan: A haven for early-stage tech ventures akin to Plainview’s Digital Ballpark, with an added component focused on youth technology training, according to Theresa Ward, the county commissioner of economic development and planning and chairman of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency’s directors board.
Ward would not say Monday how much the county hopes to win through the statewide Regional Economic Development Council Awards, announced annually in December, or comment on the chances that the Long Island REDC would even include the county’s application on its final 2017 wish list.
But she did note the REDC application was made “in partnership” with the Long Island Software & Technology Network, manager of the Digital Ballpark, and with the Urban League of Long Island, which would contribute to the youth-training component.
Neither of those organizations would be expected to provide project funding, Ward told Innovate LI, though if things progress the county will be “looking for additional funding sources” including new grants and other “alternatives to finance the project.”
Playing it close to the vest, LISTnet Chairman Peter Goldsmith said his organization “might be” involved with a new co-working tech space in Wyandanch, and said it was “very possible” that LISTnet might be in a position, hypothetically, to manage such a facililty.
“The idea of doing something in Wyandanch sounds very good,” Goldsmith said. “It could really help that community. The whole idea would be not just a co-working space, but to get the community involved to create more jobs and more chances for the people in Wyandanch.”
And working with the likes of Ward and the Urban League on such an effort, should any such effort one day exist, would be ideal, Goldsmith added.
“Theresa and I have known each other for 20 years,” he said. “If we did this, it would probably be a joint effort with her.
“And Theresa Saunders at the Urban League knows this community so well, so she would be perfect to help set up the training, if it all works out.”
Of course, whatever is happening insofar as a possible Wyandanch co-working space won’t happen overnight – the REDC awards aren’t announced until December, Goldsmith noted, “and then you have to get into construction, so you’re talking about sometime next year, at the earliest.”
From some perspectives, it can’t happen fast enough. Checking in July 27 with the Empire State Development Corp. Board of Directors, Program Administrator Barry Greenspan, who oversees ESD’s Long Island operations, offered a rundown of the Wyandanch Rising project – and while the residential units are going like hotcakes, according to Greenspan’s assessment, the commercial market has been lagging.
Greenspan was officially asking the directors to approve disbursement of two capital grants totaling $4.8 million, won by the Town of Babylon in Rounds 1 and 3 of the annual REDC program. Along the way, he updated directors on the status of the $17 million Wyandanch Village, an effort to revitalize a neighborhood that “for decades suffered from great disinvestment.”
To date, 177 residential units – including 123 qualifying as affordable housing – have been completed, along with some 35,000 square feet of ground-level retail space. And while “nearly all the (residential) units” have been rented, according to Greenspan, the retail space is only “about 25 percent” filled.
There have been some good gets, including restaurants and a new 7-Eleven franchise, but “it’s going to take a while” to bring up the retail numbers, Greenspan noted.
“This is a tough retail space to fill,” he told the ESD board. “The developers are working hard at it and … I think they would be interested in talking to anyone who has interest in Wyandanch.”
Residents, at least, have shown an interest: With the first two multi-use residential/commercial buildings completed, construction on a third could start “soon,” according to Greenspan, based solely on “strong demand for residential apartment units.”
And now Suffolk County, with LISTnet and the Urban League in tow, is interested, too – particularly with shiny new commercial space offering such easy access to the Long Island Rail Road, a new MTA parking facility and coming improvements to the LIRR’s Wyandanch station.
“There’s great access to transit, for trains, vehicles and buses,” Ward said Monday. “We’re just crossing our fingers.”