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Kevin O’Neill

American Bombshells
Event to benefit military veterans and their families

By Melissa Arnold

As our country pauses to mark many of its patriotic holidays this summer — Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day and Independence Day among them — most people will go about their business. They might head to work or to the beach or a barbecue.

But millions of veterans and those who love them live with daily reminders of their time in active duty. Some require ongoing medical care, while others need counseling to process all they’ve experienced.

On June 17, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will host a patriotic concert by the American Bombshells to honor members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families.

From left, the American Bombshells trio of Vanessa Simmons, Rayna Bertash and Crystal Cimaglia will present a patriotic-themed show in Northport on June 17. Jen Parente Photography

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families (UBHC), a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort co-operated by Northwell Health and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) in Northport.

“What we’re offering [at UBHC] is a novel way to approach treatment for veteran families,” said Mayer Bellehsen, a psychologist who’s directed the center since its opening in 2012. “We provide an outpatient clinic for veterans, as well as therapy, medication management and educational resources for their families and caregivers.”

Bellehsen also noted that the families of service members make their own sacrifices, both during their time of service and afterward, and that their well-being should also be addressed.

Huntington native Ali Reeder founded the American Bombshells Patriotic Services organization in 2011 as her own way of giving back to our troops. There are now 21 American Bombshells nationwide who perform in trios all over the world. Reeder described the group as a modern twist on the Andrews Sisters.

“I had a lot of relatives who served, so I’ve always felt very strongly about supporting our troops and their families,” said Reeder, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

The trio performing at the Engeman includes Long Island natives Rayna Bertash of Centerport and Crystal Cimaglia from Deer Park, along with Vanessa Simmons from California. The 90-minute performance will take you on a musical journey through the decades, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “One Fine Day” and “New York, New York.” From patriotic favorites to swing tunes and country hits, there’s a little something for everyone.

As “ambassadors of American gratitude,” the American Bombshells are more than just entertainers. They also serve as companions and listening ears during their visits to military bases and hospitals. It’s not uncommon for a soldier to confide in one of the women, or to hold her hand while getting stitched up.

Reeder, whose husband is a Marine, knows firsthand how military life impacts families.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and we’ll never fully understand what a soldier goes through,” she said. “Being a caregiver for someone [in the service] has given me a deeper appreciation for how challenging the transition out of the military can be for our veterans.”

To help facilitate that transition, the Bombshells partner with organizations such as Boots in Suits, which provides gently-used work clothing to vets in need, and Alpha K-9, which pairs vets with service dogs.

Kevin J. O’Neill, co-owner of the Engeman Theater, is thrilled for the opportunity to support and honor local military families.

“When we opened the theater, I also wanted to support other causes in order to honor my brother-in-law,” said O’Neill, who has owned the theater with Richard T. Dolce for 13 years.

O’Neill’s brother-in-law, John W. Engeman, served in the U.S. Army for 28 years. He was killed in Iraq in 2006 while assisting the Iraqi people in establishing their own security forces.

Since then, the Engeman has raised more than $1.3 million for various charitable and community organizations. O’Neill saw the American Bombshells perform at another event and was eager to have them come to Northport.

“The families of our military have their own struggles, and it’s important for them to be acknowledged and cared for,” O’Neill said. “Northwell has been a great supporter of what we do for many years, and this is an expansion of that relationship.”

The American Bombshells benefit performance will be held at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport on Monday, June 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 and all proceeds will benefit the UBHC at Northwell Health. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com. If you cannot attend but wish to make a donation, visit http://give.northwell.edu/Engeman.

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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Above, St. Paul’s Pastor Kristina Hansen, left, receives a check from theater owner Kevin J. O’Neill. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Northport — On July 31 co-owners of the John W. Engeman Theater Richard T. Dolce and Kevin J. O’Neill presented a check to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, kicking off a capital campaign to rebuild the church bell tower, restore several stained glass windows and repair some of the building’s restrooms.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise a total of $250,000 to $300,000 to support the costs of the repairs and restorations.

“Everything that we take in we use in some way, shape or form to support the community, to support ministries and missions out into the world, and to provide a facility,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen. “We are more than just a facility; our church is a home to Northport groups and organizations as well as our worshipping community.”

Since the first church was built at its current location in 1852, it has undergone several changes, including the construction of a new sanctuary in 1873 and the addition of a large education building in 1931-32.

Theater owners Dolce and O’Neill feel that the church is a landmark on Main Street. “It’s a beautiful structure,” said O’Neill, “And it’s part of what I think makes Main Street, Main Street.”

The John W. Engeman Theater has committed to donating a total of $25,000 in support of the capital campaign, which will be paid to the church over a period of three years.

“Our affinity for the arts naturally led us to come to the Engeman first, and we’re really overwhelmed with how generous and how immediate the response has been, “said Pastor Hansen. “It just continues to affirm that sense of community that Northport offers.”

In its 10 years of operation, the Engeman has raised funds for a wide variety of causes, including the American Red Cross and the Hurricane Sandy Relief effort, the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry of Northport and the Huntington Light House Preservation Society. The donation to St. Paul’s capital campaign fulfills the theater’s ongoing commitment to supporting local organizations and the community.

“We feel very, very strongly that this community is our home, and we want to do everything we can to strengthen it,” said O’Neill. “We hope that others within the village will participate to support this grand structure and contribute to the campaign.” To learn how to contribute to the capital campaign, visit www.EngemanTheater.com/Donate.

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