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Perry Street

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Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant shows attendees at a public hearing Sept. 26 plans for the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Village is looking to bring Uptown Funk to Port Jefferson Station, but it’ll need some help.

The Port Jefferson Village board of trustees plans to submit a funding proposal to the Empire State Development Corporation to breathe new life into upper Port Jefferson.

The plans are part of the Restore New York Communities Initiative, which was funded in the 2015-16 state budget for the sole purpose of supporting municipalities in rehabilitating blighted commercial properties.

If awarded, the funding proposal would grant the village up to $500,000 to be used to clean up five adjacent parcels near the intersection of Perry Street and Main Street, about a block north of the Long Island Rail Road station. The village is calling the multiphased project Uptown Funk.

Mayor Margot Garant said during a public hearing on the matter Sept. 26 that the village plans to apply for the grant yearly in the hopes of redeveloping multiple areas in upper Port over time. The grant will also require the village to match at least 10 percent of the $500,000 toward the project, according to Garant.

“The $500,000 can be used for sidewalk restoration, demolition, redevelopment, parking lot improvements — all the things that would be necessary to help a developer make an improvement to this area.”

— Margot Garant

The location was selected following a blight study in May, which targeted several areas in Port Jefferson Station in need of attention. The buildings named in the funding proposal were ultimately chosen because of the village’s belief that the property owner will cooperate. The grant requires a willing participant from the private sector. Currently the buildings on the property are vacant.

Village grant writer Nicole Christian said she expects to hear back regarding the application by the spring of 2017, and at the moment no concrete parameters have been established for how exactly the money would be put to use.

“The $500,000 can be used for sidewalk restoration, demolition, redevelopment, parking lot improvements — all the things that would be necessary to help a developer make an improvement to this area,” Garant said. “The $500,000 is sort of loosely prescribed, and what I mean by that is we’re not told we have to put it into sidewalks, or told we have to put it into one aspect of the project. So as far as we see it, it enables the village to bring $500,000 to the table to help incentivize a project that will give back to the village perhaps more of what it would like to see, which is a strong, anchor retail establishment on the main floor, or a restaurant with housing above.”

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo expressed his excitement to get the project started.

“I’m really happy to see the village moving forward on this particular issue,” he said of the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station. “It has been a clear goal of mine since I became a trustee to do something about upper Port, and this is one of the mechanisms that I’m happy we can embrace.”

Trustee Larry Lapointe also voiced support for the plan.

“I think this particular corner is perhaps the worst corner uptown,” he said. “The two buildings that are on site were deemed to be so unsafe that we had to vacate and board them up. Two of the lots behind are magnets for homeless people, and we’re constantly working with the owners to get camps moved out of that area when they spring up. It’s sorely in need of redevelopment.”

Barbara Ransome, director of operations for The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, addressed the proposal during the hearing.

“The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce certainly supports this potential funding and really feels it’s very important, especially in upper Port, in our business community there, and as a gateway coming into the village,” she said. “It’s critical for this type of development to continue.”

Richard Panico, of Miller Place, speaks as the Friends of Karen’s honoree at the organization's Long Island Gala. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Richard Panico is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy.

So it took some convincing when Friends of Karen wanted to honor Panico, a Miller Place resident, for his charitable nature during their third annual Long Island Gala on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Stonebridge Country Club in Smithtown. The organization’s Regional Director, Nancy Mariano, approached Panico earlier this year, asking to spotlight him at the event. Initially, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

“I read this somewhere [that] if more than one person knows you did a good deed, it’s no longer a good deed,” Panico said. “So … to me it’s just not necessary to have that kind of ego.”

Panico got involved with Friends of Karen three years ago when he purchased the building on Perry Street in Port Jefferson that the organization operates out of. Currently, Panico’s company Symbio, which provides clinical trial management services for pharmaceutical companies, and Friends of Karen share the building. He turned his efforts toward helping the organization, which aims to offer emotional and financial support to families of children with life-threatening illnesses, but his efforts didn’t start with Friends of Karen.

In 2003, one year after Panico’s company was established, he kickstarted its annual bike-a-thon at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai to help raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It held the fundraiser for seven years and raised more than $50,000.

“It was good for the company,” said Susan Swamback, an employee of Symbio. “It was good for all of us to feel like a team. … He loves that.”

Swamback also helped with the annual bike-a-thon, but the fundraising stopped after the company didn’t raise as much money as it had hoped, despite its efforts.

Over the past few years, Panico has donated skin creams to families that frequent hospitals and helped one child and his family attend a New York Mets baseball game. Panico’s nephew Tom McGuire added that his uncle also tries to help his family and friends.

During the gala, Mariano said Panico “is the kindest most generous father, husband and friend to all.” Mariano added that the organization was proud to acknowledge Panico at the event.

While the gala was a means to highlight people like Panico, it also helps Friends of Karen raise awareness and money to further its mission. In the organization’s 37 years, it’s helped around 5,500 sick children and their families. Panico said the organization works hard to achieve its goal, and even continued his own effort to help the organization during his honoree speech.

“If you are able to donate — if you’re able to buy raffle tickets, if you’re able to [participate] in the silent auctions, that would be fantastic,” Panico said during the gala. “If you can’t … tell your friends, spread the word.”