St. James residents had a new park to visit along Lake Avenue this summer. On Tuesday, Oct. 18, elected officials, members of Celebrate St. James, donors and residents came together at Celebrate Park for an official dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The park sits where the Irish Viking pub was once located. The establishment had been closed for nearly a decade when Town of Smithtown officials considered tearing it down to make way for a park and municipal parking lot. When the bar was put up on a tax lien, the town worked with Suffolk County to acquire it through an intergovernmental contract.
Volunteers from the cultural arts organization Celebrate St. James worked with elected officials during the design and construction of the park, including soliciting donations for the brick walkways that feature stones embossed with local families’ names and special messages from residents.
In November 2020, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), other elected officials and members of the community broke ground and officially unveiled the plans for the park. On Oct. 18, among those Wehrheim thanked was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his part in making the park happen. Bellone was unable to be in attendance due to dealing with the recent county cyberattack issues. The town supervisor said everyone had a part in making the park a reality.
“This day marks completion of the third and final phase of the revitalization efforts in St. James,” Wehrheim said, adding that the town is working on a connection to the sewer line installed under Lake Avenue a few years ago.
The town supervisor said before he took office in 2017, he had counted 33 vacant storefronts on Lake — now there are less than a handful. With more people strolling the street, kids riding their bikes, the park and more, he compared it to a Norman Rockwell picture.
“Today we can see what can happen when a community, the good people who call it home and local levels of government all work together as one,” he said. “Today we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor and officially welcome the people of this great town to Celebrate Park.”
“Today we can see what can happen when a community, the good people who call it home and local levels of government all work together as one.”
— Ed Wehrheim
Wehrheim credited the Celebrate St. James volunteers, especially former president Natalie Weinstein and current president Patricia Clark, for being a big part of the process.
Weinstein said the park came to fruition due to an “unusual administration and an unusual group of volunteers.”
“Both embody the vision of economic revitalization,” she said. “Both are committed to progress, and both attract the talent and cooperation of some pretty amazing people.”
Weinstein also credited St. James residents due to their “generous donations of dollars, service and talents.”
“We know St. James has always been a special place,” the resident of nearly 50 years said. “This little sleepy hamlet of Smithtown has a history worth sharing and perpetuating. It has been home to a famous architect [Stanford White], a New York City mayor [William Gaynor], countless vaudevillians and many hardworking people who, in good times and bad, helped their neighbors.”
Weinstein said the park was aptly named by the town’s public information officer Nicole Garguilo, a lifelong resident of St. James.
“Today we cut a ribbon to symbolically and actually turn a vision into reality, taking an eyesore in our community and transforming it into a place of pride for all, now and in the future,” Weinstein said.
Clark said in 2017, every time she drove through Lake Avenue and other parts of town and see so many empty storefronts, she thought, “This place is dying.” Later she discovered Weinstein and Celebrate St. James vice presidents Arline Goldstein and Jack Ader had noticed the same as she did and approached town officials to see how they could help revitalize St. James.
She said in addition to working on the park, Celebrate St. James aims to turn the former Calderone theater on Second Avenue into the St. James Community Cultural Arts Center.
“Today, we see our dream of this park become reality, and now we at Celebrate are once again on the verge of a community endeavor of unique proportions,” Clark said. “Once again it is time to come together to plan for the future for our children, for our seniors and for ourselves. Now is the time to preserve and cherish the past on which we build a future to serve the town for generations to come.”