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Lake Avenue revitalization

St. James artist Arline Goldstein stands with a piece of her work in Studio 455. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Among the empty storefronts, cracked sidewalk and blighted buildings along Lake Avenue, local artist and longtime St. James resident Arline Goldstein drives down the road and pictures something better, something that will draw crowds and make the area vibrant with art and music.

“When I ride down Lake Avenue, I don’t see [the blight], I see boutiques and cafés and art galleries,” Goldstein said. “I use my imagination.”

In a new twist on St. James revitalization, local artists are putting forth the idea of creating an art district along Lake Avenue in an effort to make St. James a hot spot for art and culture. Goldstein presented the idea to Town of Smithtown officials at the May 8 board meeting.

“It’s in my heart for artists to show their work, and for others to see that work,” she said. “This project is the culmination of all my ideas about art.”

When I ride down Lake Avenue, I don’t see [the blight], I see boutiques and cafés and art galleries. I use my imagination.”
– Arline Goldstein

In April, Golsdstein and Eric Neitzel, the owner of DeBarbieri Associates Real Estate agency, went up and down Lake Avenue from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue. Together, they counted nearly 20 empty storefronts along the approximately .8 mile stretch of road. Nietzel hopes the project could not only increase interest in the arts, but bring in restaurants, retail and other businesses.

“I think we could make a prosperous little downtown here in St. James,” Neitzel said.

The artists involved in the project believe this project could be a way to bring business back to downtown St. James.

“I think it is one thing that will help save this town,” photo artist Jack Ader said. “It has been proven all over the country that when places get together and create an art district, it revitalizes the town, it helps the local businesses.”

On June 12, Goldstein and some of her compatriots will meet with the town board and town planning department in a work group so she can fully explain what she has in mind. She said that if all goes well she hopes they could form a committee to truly start work on creating plans for the project. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has already shown support for the idea.

“In my opinion it’s a great idea for St. James, and I think it could really work well,” Wehrheim said. “Once it gets advertised, and people come and see it, word of mouth goes around and it really attracts people to it.”

Smithtown historian Bradley Harris said there are a number of historical underpinnings of art in St. James, including the St. James Calderone Theater off Lake Avenue that was built in 1929 and hosted many early vaudeville shows.

“There were a couple of individuals, artists and musicians who made a big impact in the area,” Harris said. “We’re still rediscovering that history in what was devoted to the arts in the past.”

“It has been proven all over the country that when places get together and create an art district, it revitalizes the town, it helps the local businesses.”
– Jack Ader

Even with the excitement she’s seen from the community and town board, Goldstein said she knows that creating an art district could take quite a long time. In March, the Village of Patchogue named Terry Street an art and culture district, but the revitalization of the area into the artistic hot spot it is today took many years. Not only that, but making Lake Avenue an art district would require not a small amount of legal commitment. It would mean a total rezoning of the area, and Goldstein predicted there would likely need to be incentives for businesses to open along the road and for landlords to upgrade buildings while not increasing rents.

Wehrheim said the St. James revitalization project, slated to begin this month, has been pushed back approximately a year to allow the installation of dry sewer mains at the same time. The revitalization plan calls for the renovations of Lake Avenue from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue. This will include new sidewalks, planting of trees, installation of street lighting, curbs, concrete gutters and crosswalks, driveway aprons, asphalt, driveway aprons, benches and other decorative amenities.

Goldstein said she believed that if all goes according to plan and everything from the sewers to the new sidewalks are installed in time, then this project could really get underway.

Natalie Weinstein, the owner of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates and Studio 455 Art Gallery in St. James, said they are not going to wait for the sewers and revitalization to move forward. The artists are already looking to create events to promote art on Lake Avenue this summer, at the St. James gazebo.

“The art district will not be able to occur before we have the sewers hookup,” Weinstein said. “While we are waiting for that we are not sitting on our duffs. We’re doing exciting things to excite people and help spread the word.”

The Irish Viking Pub in St. James has stood vacant for nearly a decade. Photo by Kyle Barr

The doors have been closed and the windows shuttered on the Irish Viking pub on Lake Avenue in St. James for nearly a decade. Town of Smithtown officials are considering turning the eyesore into a parking lot.

Smithtown Town Board voted unanimously at its May 8 meeting to hire John S. Goess Realty Appraisal Inc. to
appraise the value of 369 Lake Ave. property to see the viability of turning it into a municipal parking lot.

“That building’s been vacant for years,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “I have to be honest, even when the place was open the place was an eyesore. It’s really time for this thing to become something better.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said that if the property owners agree to sell at the appraised value the town will look to turn the site into a parking lot that would include a center pavilion that could be used by local chamber or civics groups for many different kinds of events.

Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want addressed, along with speeding and safety.”

– Ed Wehrheim

“This will help generate tourism, revenue and aid in the goal to encourage residents to shop local,” Garguilo said in an email.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town will wait for a return on the appraisal before moving forward with contacting the property owners. He also said the parking lot could become an aspect of the St. James revitalization project, which is set to begin work early next year after the town installs a sewer system along Lake Avenue.

“Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want
addressed, along with speeding and safety,” Wehrheim said in a statement. “By providing both the parking space and a venue that can be used for small business, markets and showcasing the arts, we can be proactive in our efforts to ensure that Lake Avenue will be an epicenter for arts and entertainment, while maintaining its quaint, historic charm.”

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that he expects the appraisal to be completed in three to four weeks.

Nowick said the town hopes to get a grant from the county in order to build the parking lot, if the town wants to acquire the property.

There are two municipal parking lots in the area. One is down the road from the Irish Viking property used by the St. James Long Island Rail Road train station. There is a second municipal parking lot behind Spage’s Pharmacy, hiding behind the front facing businesses along Lake Avenue. Nowick said there is a definite need for more parking along that road.

I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“Cars often line up on both sides of the road where two cars in opposite lanes cannot pass through after that,” Nowick said. “You really cannot go through, and if you have a truck trying to get through, because there are trucks that need to deliver to King Kullen, it’s nearly impossible.”

Kerry Maher-Weisse, the president of the Community Association of Greater St. James said that while she likes the idea of a municipal parking lot, she also believes that Lake Avenue needs more restaurants to make the area more attractive to both businesses and customers.

“Here we are having people who are very interested to open up business in town, and [the Irish Viking property] would be a great place for a burger joint in the middle of town,” Maher-Weisse said. “I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

The town is required to buy the property at the appraised value. If the property owners decide they don’t want to sell, Nowick said there is not much the town could do and the only way the town would apply for eminent domain is if the aging building is posing a danger to the community. It would then take several hearings involving the owner.

“He’s still paying his taxes and it’s his property,” she said.

Town's 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million features Lake Avenue revitalization in St. James

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kevin Redding

With the adoption of more than $30 million in  capital plans Tuesday, Smithtown officials hope to be looking at a robust future.

Smithtown Town Board approved its 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million — $8.8 million is bonded — and a proposed 2019-22 capital plan — totaling $20.8 million.

The majority of the 2018 capital budget funds St. James downtown business district improvements, with $4.6 million in bonds set aside for the revitalization of Lake Avenue, of which $2.4 million will fund water main replacement.

2018 Capital Budget

For 2018, town officials have set aside funding to completely revise the town code — $300,000 — and update the town’s master plan on a budget of $500,000. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said these will serve as “blueprints for all downtown revitalization throughout Smithtown.”

We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”
— Ed Wehrheim

“Without these two items, downtown revitalization is merely a concept,” Wehrheim said. “We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”

Wehrheim said the town’s existing master plan was written in-house at least 10 years ago.

Bouncing off the success of a recent market analysis study by an outside urban planner of what was needed to revitalize downtown Kings Park — that broke down the pros and cons of different sections of the hamlet — the town will issue a request for proposals to bring in a new set of eyes to evaluate and suggest improvements to the existing plan.

“The master plan is essentially going to be that, but times 10 or 20,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “It’s geared toward figuring out where the town is going to be decades down the line and the focus of progress for this new administration. It’s really the start of making this town more small business friendly and civic minded.”

Once the results of the evaluation are collected, Wehrheim and other council members will pick and choose what improvements work best for Smithtown.

“We want to hear what they think we need to move forward in the business districts and the rest of the town going into the future,” Wehrheim said.

While discussing the recodification plans, Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R) said, “This is going to bring things into the 21st century.”

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning”
— Tom McCarthy

“It’s going to streamline things and help residents, help small businesses,” McCarthy said. “It’s been decades now and there’s no reason to make people have to — as I like to say — ‘spit blood’ just to get a permit. Right now they have to go to the board of zoning appeals and planning boards for things approved 95 to 100 percent of the time.”

2019-22 Capital Plan 

Among its planned projects for 2019-22, the town will look to fund $2.2 million in improvements at various town parks: Flynn Memorial Park in Commack to turn it into a premiere Long Island sports park; $500,000 in renovations to Gaynor Park in St. James that include new tennis and basketball courts, a playground with improved surfacing, installation of refurbished, handicap-accessible bathrooms; and new surfacing in the waterpark at Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.

The town also plans to add steps leading to the gazebo at Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, install LED lighting in Maple Avenue Park in Smithtown, repave and landscape the Bellemeade Avenue parking area and replace its deteriorating showmobile. New highway equipment will be purchased, including yard generators for Smithtown and Kings Park.

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning,” McCarthy said.

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