With Riverhead’s nod, CAT set to soar in Calverton

The art of aerospace: What the CAT Hub may soon look like, now that the Riverhead Town Board has qualified Calverton Aviation & Technology to complete a $40 million land deal at EPCAL. (Image courtesy Gustav Düsing Architects)

A development team with big plans for a reinvigorated Long Island aerospace industry spread its wings Wednesday night, soaring straight toward its long-desired nest.

Calverton Aviation & Technology, a 2017 LLC formed by partners Luminati Aerospace and Triple Five Worldwide Group, was deemed “qualified and eligible” by the Riverhead Community Development Agency, clearing the runway for a $40 million, 1,643-acre purchase agreement previously negotiated by Luminati and the Town of Riverhead.

Edmonton, Canada-based Triple Five Group, which operates domestically out of offices in Las Vegas and New Jersey, is known primarily for developing retail malls and entertainment facilities. But its partnership with Calverton-based Luminati is grounded in flight – the rebirth of the Long Island aerospace-manufacturing corridor, actually, with the innovative Luminati as its EPCAL-based anchor.

Over the next decade, “CAT intends to leverage several billions of dollars of private investment to transform this significant asset into a world-class aerospace technology hub,” according to a statement from the 2017 startup.

“We believe working in partnership with New York State, the local community, Suffolk County and the federal government, we can restore Long Island’s aerospace heritage along with the associated high-tech manufacturing job base,” the company said in a statement, calling it “a monumental task formerly thought to be impossible.”

To that end, CAT may just be getting started negotiating Long Island land deals. Noting its recent purchase of the former Dowling College campus in Shirley – near the EPCAL land and now looking very much like the bookend of a new aerospace corridor along the William Floyd Parkway – the company announced a “goal to invest in this site and others on Long Island and throughout New York State … to curate the most significant aerospace projects and propel the Long Island ecosystem to a leadership position in advanced technology.”

The Luminati/Triple Five alliance had to be certified “qualified and eligible” because the negotiation of the $40 million purchase agreement was not part of a competitive bidding process – and because the land, once home to U.S. Navy research and bustling Grumman Aerospace Corp. operations, is designated as an Urban Renewal Area.

That means any development there must match the town’s urban-renewal plan – and the CAT plan qualifies, according to the Riverhead Town Board, which in its role as the Riverhead Community Development Agency voted 3-2 Wednesday night to certify the LLC.

The vote was along party lines, with Republican board members Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard and Jim Wooten all voting in favor and Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and board member Catherine Kent, both Democrats, voting against.

The CAT strategy revolves around the creation of the Calverton Aviation & Technology Innovation Hub, a “synergistic ecosystem” providing an advanced technology infrastructure to an “expertly curated” roster of companies, ranging from academic institutions and workforce-development agencies to defense contractors and high-tech aerospace manufacturers.

As next-generation aerospace development follows a more difficult flight plan than conventional aerospace manufacturing, the CAT Hub will work to “give its companies an edge over their competitors by centralizing necessary resources, technologies and production lines,” according to CAT.

All that next-level aero-spacing flies in tight formation with Luminati Aerospace founder and CEO Daniel Preston, whose personal flights of fancy include perpetual solar-powered stratospheric flight and new uses for manned and unmanned rotorcraft. Designs for both have progressed nicely over the last year-plus, ever since the startup signed a 2017 letter of intent with town officials to purchase the EPCAL acreage for $40 million, even with Luminati battling its way to Calverton.

Multiple high-profile partners have hitched their wagons to Luminati’s star and then backed off, generating understandable consternation. And even with Triple Five’s steady hand on the stick, gaining the proper approvals has been a slow and painful process – debate has raged at Riverhead Town Hall, and because of the uncertainty, Preston has already been forced to pilot potential EPCAL operations to other landing zones.

Daniel Preston: Any landing you can walk away from.

That includes the recent establishment of Luminati VTOL, a rotorcraft R&D division combining several Luminati acquisitions on a quest to master the next generation of vertical take-off and landing aircraft, in upstate Little Falls.

While eager to spread CAT’s presence around the state and happy with the Little Falls location, Preston marked the Luminati VTOL opening by venting frustration over the Calverton delays, noting he “could not wait forever to decide where to locate the business and jobs” and adding his hopes that CAT would close the $40 million sale “before I have to decide where to locate the other helicopter-related businesses we have acquired.”

Whether or not those carefully voiced concerns affected Wednesday’s vote, CAT cleared a significant hurdle this week, and will now focus on attracting carbon and composite manufacturers, advanced electric-motor innovators and other industrial components of the 21st century aerospace cluster.

And Preston, bruised by the politics but excited for the future, will look to the skies.

“I would quote Henry Ford,” the entrepreneur told Innovate LI. “‘When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.’

“Good things to come,” Preston added.