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The Huntington Town board will consider at its June 18 meeting a plan to convert its Old Town Hall into an expanded hotel. The board previously approved the project, but will be reconsider a revised plan, which entails enlarging the size of the hotel from 55 rooms to  80 rooms. The proposal includes a three-story addition onto the rear of Old Town Hall, where the rooms would be located. The Old Town Hall building would contain the lobby, offices and common areas, as previously proposed. 

The site is located in the Historic Overlay District, a designation that gives owners of historic properties and large residential estates flexibility for use. The expansion means that the board must consider applying that special status to an additional parcel east of Old Town Hall, which the applicant acquired for the expansion.

“It’s important we bring renewed life to this historic landmark, preserving Huntington’s history and boosting our downtown economy,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said. “Huntington village has always been a destination and the idea of a boutique hotel that pays homage to the building’s past life as the former Town Hall will achieve those goals, while bringing added convenience and comfort of an overnight stay.”

The project is being developed by Huntington Village Hotel Partners with George Tsunis one of the affiliated associates. Tsunis, a former partner in Rivkin Radler LLP, a law firm that represents both private clients and municipalities has served the Town of Huntington as special counsel.

Tsunis did not respond to telephone messages. Huntington Hotel Partners, as listed in the the state’s corporate file, uses the law firm Buzzell, Blanda and Visconti as its registered agent. The firm did not respond to telephone messages before going to press.

The plan to convert Old Town Hall into a hotel dates back to at least 2013, when Old Town Hall Operating Co. developed and submitted plans for a $10 million renovation to the town’s planning board. 

Old Town Hall was built in 1910 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It last served as Huntington’s Town Hall in 1979.

Norhtport village residents packed the Jan. 29 public hearing regarding The Northport Hotel. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Northport residents came out in support of the business a local hotel could bring but raised concerns about the traffic that may come with it.  

Northport village held a hearing Jan. 29 on business owners Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce’s, of the John W. Engeman Theater,  proposal to construct a hotel-restaurant, The Northport Hotel, at 225 Main St. The much-anticipated project drew a large crowd to the American Legion Hall, which was packed to standing room only. 

Christopher Modelewski, an attorney representing O’Neill and Dolce, presented an updated site rendering of the hotel at the village public hearing Jan. 29. The rendering included changes they made to the site as a result of concerns raised by the planning board and area professionals. 

Study:  Northport has parking spots, if you walk

Northport residents voiced their concerns about a lack of parking along Main Street at a Jan. 29 public hearing on a proposed hotel and restaurant. Yet, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of spots if people are willing to walk.

The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.

Northport’s central business district has a total 195 metered slots and 420 free spaces between Main Street and its side municipal lots, according to the study.  Nearly half of these spots are divided between streetside metered parking on Main Street, and the two free lots adjacent to the village’s waterfront parks.

On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.

“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report reads.

On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that “are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport, said the village board is being proactive in trying to address parking demands and congestion concerns.

“The evaluation provided us with some suggestions that we may consider,” he said.

Some suggestions include re-striping of  waterfront municipal lots could add 30 spaces, expanding the free lot by the American Legion to add 35 spots and development of a parking management plan. Other ideas given by Level G Associates are just not feasible, according to Kehoe such as leasing the parking lot used by the St. Philip Neri Church and Parish Center on Prospect Avenue.

Kehoe also said he has suggested moving the village’s Highway Department out of the Woodside Avenue lot to provide more spaces.

“It is a public safety issue,” the deputy mayor said. “You have the theater close by, snow plows are in there — that lot can get very busy.”

Kehoe said Northport residents are fortunate to live in a place where people want to visit and spend money, but in turn that causes more of a demand for parking. The village’s town board plans to continue the process of making these changes between now and the upcoming summer.

When the building plans were first presented to the village’s planning board in May 2017, O’Neill sought to construct a 24-room hotel and a 200-seat restaurant. Recent changes have  reduced the size of the restaurant to 124 seats with an additional 50 seats in the lobby and
bar area. 

Despite these changes, Northport residents continued to express concern about accessibility and how it could exacerbate parking issues in the village.

Tom Mele, of Northport, said he is for the creation of the hotel but argues it is off base to think that there isn’t an accessibility and parking problem in the village.

“If you [O’Neill] love this town as much as you say you do, you would find a way to work with the village board,” Mele said. “Work with them to decrease the traffic on Main Street and if that means downsizing the venue downstairs to accommodate the people, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.”

Northport property owner Frank Cavagnaro expressed similar sentiments saying that the planning board shouldn’t accept the site plans as is. He viewed the parking issue as his main concern.

“You’re gonna come in and try to stuff five pounds of bologna in a 1-pound bag — it’s not going to fit,” Cavagnaro said. “Parking in the village is terrible, it’s going to kill the village.”

The  Village of Northport commissioned a parking study by Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates, released in December 2018, that found that during a typical weekday the downtown area “exhibited normal and healthy parking patterns.” While approximately 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and the free Main Street lots were full, the study found 100 free spaces available during peak times in the in the municipal lots. 

Still, Cavagnaro presented a possible compromise to the village board. 

“Consider a smaller restaurant, to get him started with the option if we find more parking, for him [O’Neill] to come back to the board,” Cavagnaro said. 

Modelewski also cited a traffic impact study performed by Walter Dunn, a professional engineer and founder of Dunn Engineering Associates, and Tom Mazzola, former traffic and safety director for the Town of Huntington. The study found that the hotel would have a benign impact on the traffic in the area.  

O’Neill said under the proposed plans there would be no parking on Woodside Avenue and no right turn out of the two parking lots so traffic does not go into residential areas. 

“We will have the ability to take, between the theater and the hotel-restaurant operation,  roughly 150 cars off [the] street,” O’Neill said. “The village has 609 [parking] spots, for anybody in the industry that’s a seismic shift in the dynamics in how much parking is being provided.”

Residents were also concerned about the possibility of delivery trucks unloading on Main Street, which is not permitted under Northport village law according to Modelewski. 

“Tractor trailers and box cars double park behind cars — that’s unlawful,” the hotel’s attorney said. “There’s a reason why the law isn’t being enforced — it’s because it’s the only way businesses can function.”

Modelewski said O’Neill will work with the suppliers to use only box cars. 

Northport resident Alex Edwards-Bourdrez said the proposed hotel would fit the town beautifully. 

“I understand that there can be all these of glitches [in the process] but I would ask for all of us to rise up together in support of this,” Edwards-Bourdrez said. “We have all the brains in here to put the pieces together in a way that they won’t fall apart, it won’t choke the village — I don’t believe it will.”

Edwards-Bourdrez also touched on the issue of parking. 

“Nobody that goes into New York City or a bigger town worries about walking 5 to 10 minutes to where they are going,” he said. “There is parking, you just sometimes can’t park right next to where you want to go. We have to make these concessions for us to grow as a village.” 

The village’s parking study found that on a typical weekend, defined as Friday and Saturday evenings, there is ample available parking “within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”

Lenny Olijnyk, of Northport, said everybody was against the theater until O’Neill took over and renovated it in 2007. He argued that the hotel would increase the village’s commercial tax base. 

“Maybe we can clean up the streets a little bit, the sidewalks will get fixed,” Olijnyk said. “You have to think about that. The village wants to grow, my grandkids are going to live here. There has to be revenue for the village.”

O’Neill felt strongly in order for his theater business and others to strive they must work together in a positive way. 

“It’s just not sitting up here trying to make money, there’s more to it,” he said. “I don’t believe in sucking the community dry where we do business.” 

 

 

The spot at 225 Main Street will be where Northport Village will begin construction for a new inn. Photo from John W. Engeman Theater

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Blueprints and floor plans can be drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn, which overcame its first legal hurdle last week.

Northport Village trustees voted 3 to 1 to approve a code modification that paves the way for the construction of hotels and/or inns within the village’s downtown business district. Mayor George Doll and Trustees Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen voted in favor, and the sole dissenting vote was cast by Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin.

The village code approved Aug. 22 sets basic guidelines to regulate any future construction of a hotel and/or inn including maximum height and required parking spaces.

“There’s a tremendous need for lodging in this area” said Kevin O’Neill, managing director of John W. Engeman Theater. “Long Island is one of the most underserved locations in the United States for lodging.”

An artistic rendering of what the proposed hotel and restaurant at 225 Main Street in Northport Village may look like. Photo from Kevin O’Neill

O’Neill, along with his business partner Richard Dolce, the theater’s producing artistic director, first presented a proposal for a 24-room Northport Inn and restaurant to be built at 225 Main Street in May, feet away from the Engeman.

“With the entrepreneurial juices that we both have, we were trying to figure out different ways that we can hedge the risk of a show being successful or not to help keep us afloat,” O’Neill said. “The vision came into play where we could create a restaurant that synergizes with the theater and an inn.”

The main inspiration for the proposal came from The American Hotel in Sag Harbor, according to O’Neill, in addition to several boutique lodgings that Dolce and O’Neill visited in Camden, Maine, last year. The partners said their goal is to bring first-class harborside lodging to the village along with a restaurant to serve meals and drinks to both overnight visitors and theatergoers.

“We have no intention of this becoming a glitzy Hampton-type thing,” O’Neill said. “We think it could be a charming harbor town like you have in Maine, but seven hours closer.”

Since the initial presentation in May, the main public criticism voiced by residents and the sole dissenting trustee, Tobin, has been what the potential impact the addition of the hotel and restaurant would have on the village’s parking and traffic congestion. Public comments were accepted by the village board from May 16 to July 18.

“We’re already stressed for parking on Main Street,” Tobin said. “I support the hotel, I support the restaurant. The question is what size restaurant will work within downtown Northport?”

The proposed plans as set forth call for a ground-level, 200-seat restaurant, according to O’Neill. Tobin said a parking and traffic study should have been conducted prior to the trustees’ vote to modify the village code to allow for the construction of the hotel/inn.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark.”

—Kevin O’Neill

“[A parking and traffic study] would give us guidance on how many seats a restaurant could have and yet have minimal parking and traffic problems,” Tobin said. “We could use a study to determine the balance between the economic needs of the hotel and the logistical needs of the village and its residents.”

O’Neill stressed that he and Dolce are “very conscious” of parking concerns in Northport, citing that the village currently has approximately 600 public parking spaces, largely at the west end of the business district. He said it is their plan to convert the existing two parking lots, of 12 spaces each, currently on the property into a total of 54 parking spots. This is more than the number required under the village code passed on Aug. 22, according to O’Neill.

“We have done tireless research and we are confident that the parking we are providing, along with our valet that we’ve provided for the last 10 years, that we will have a seamless process to handle this,” he said.

The John W. Engeman Theater currently offers a valet parking service for  its attendees, managing to service and park vehicles for 390 patrons up to twice a day for weekend matinees and evening performances.

A secondary issue raised by Tobin and residents was a concern that the 200-seat restaurant could be used for catering large events, causing a large influx of vehicular traffic at a time. However, O’Neill said he and Dolce have no interest in providing catering service for weddings, bat mitzvahs or other special occasions.

O’Neill said he hopes to have blueprints and a site plan drawn up for the proposed Northport Inn by Nov. 1 to present to the village, with the hopes of beginning construction in early spring 2018.

“We are taking a building that’s a blight upon the community and turning it into a landmark,” O’Neill said.

Both O’Neill and Dolce said they welcome any village residents with questions or concerns about their proposal to contact them directly for further discussion.

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