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Staller Associates

Graphic courtesy Valentin Staller

During a meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce on Monday, June 20, the developer of the Jefferson Plaza project presented his vision for its future.

Valentin Staller, vice president of the Hauppauge-based real estate firm Staller Associates, delivered a presentation on the proposed redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, a property that has been in the family for over half a century.

The history of Jefferson Plaza

Jefferson Plaza shopping center is located on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station. The property was first developed in the late 1950s by Erwin and Max Staller, Valentin’s grandfather and great-grandfather, respectively. For a period, the shopping center was a popular and prosperous commercial hub serving the Port Jeff Station and Terryville communities. However, the plaza experienced its share of setbacks as the area underwent a steep decline.

“The whole commercial corridor began to suffer its challenges,” Staller said. “Certain negative elements within the commercial corridor made it really hard to do business.” He added, “Unfortunately, the pandemic only exacerbated things.”

In 2014, the Town of Brookhaven released the Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study, a 135-page document outlining a comprehensive plan to revitalize the area, emphasizing mixed-use commercial and residential zoning with pedestrian walkability. After being approached by, and entering into negotiations with, the Town of Brookhaven, Staller Associates began to seriously consider redeveloping the property. 

Under the current plan, the site would include a main street, food hall, fitness center, apartments and more. Graphics courtesy Valentin Staller

A redevelopment plan

Staller’s plan includes 49,400 square feet of commercial space, including restaurants and a proposed food hall. The plan accommodates 280 apartments “with a heavy skew toward one-bedrooms.” Staller also said 80% of the apartments will be offered at market rate while the remaining 20% will be designated for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “a tremendously underserved community as it relates to housing on Long Island,” he added.

When the developers began planning for the redevelopment of the property, they quickly entered into conversations with Suffolk County about extending sewers into downtown Port Jeff Station.

“We recognized immediately that for any redevelopment to occur, whether it’s this property or any other property in the corridor, a connection to sewers is vital,” Staller said.

The goal of the project, according to Staller, is “to create a dynamic, mixed-use suburban environment.” The developers have already undergone several iterations of their site plan with the Brookhaven Planning Department. 

Under the current site plan, the development “is designed to create a much more neighborhood business feel than what exists today and create a more walkable downtown type of environment,” he said. There are also plans to accommodate a fitness and retail center in the plaza. 

At the core of the project is a proposed main street that would include retail stores, restaurants and a food hall. The main street would be distinguished by its “exceptional landscaping and distinct pavers” that are both pedestrian-friendly and promote outdoor dining. 

“We want to be able to close it off for events,” Staller said. “We want to work with the Terryville Fire Department so that we can have things like farmers markets, Oktoberfest, winter holiday markets and St. Patrick’s Day right on our main street.”

Opposite the main street, there are plans to have what Staller calls “the innovation center.” This venue would serve as a gathering space for engineers, entrepreneurs and programmers.

“We want this to be sort of a mini economic development hub right here in this community,” he said. “We want to bring in Stony Brook [University]’s growing engineering department.”

At the south end of the site, Staller proposes to build apartment complexes that are “designed to be tucked away into the site” to avoid pushing up against and obstructing existing neighborhoods in the area. 

Three-dimensional rendering of the proposed redevelopment project at Jefferson Plaza. Graphic courtesy Valentin Staller

Impact on the community

Staller believes the development will stimulate economic activity in the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville community. In order to qualify for a market-rate apartment, Staller said, a prospective tenant must first demonstrate that he or she makes three times the rent before income taxes. 

“If you add all of that together, with 80% [of the apartments] at market rate, there’s a lot of disposable income that is concentrated in this community,” he said. This disposable income, he suggests, will inject $7 million per year into the local economy. 

Jefferson Plaza is uniquely situated near several major employment hubs on Long Island. Among these are Mather and St. Charles hospitals and Stony Brook University. Staller believes that this redevelopment plan will work due to the demand for housing that these centers generate.

Staller summarized his vision as follows: “We’re talking about a major investment in the built environment with purpose-built outdoor dining, great building materials, high quality architecture and landscaping.”

The developers are still at least two years away before they can begin building. In the meantime, there remains much to be worked out with Brookhaven and Suffolk County.

To read about how the local civic association has embraced the redevelopment project, see the TBR News Media March 31 story, “Reimagining Jefferson Plaza.”

Sal Pitti (left) and Ed Garboski (right) stand outside of Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Raymond Janis

Local leaders have weighed in on the proposed redevelopment project at Jefferson Plaza on Route 112, south of Hallock Avenue in Port Jeff Station.

Empty storefronts have been an ongoing issue for the PJ Station community. Photo by Raymond Janis

 

The plaza is owned by Staller Associates, a commercial real estate company based in Hauppauge. Staller intends to make a significant investment to redevelop this shopping center, according to leadership from the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association. Under the current plan, the plaza will be zoned commercial and residential. TBR News Media could not reach a representative of Staller Associates for this story.

Edward Garboski, incoming president of PJSTCA, said that a plan to revitalize the plaza has been in the works for nearly a decade. Since its approval, that plan has mostly been dormant until recently.

“Over eight years ago, we did a comprehensive study to create a transit-oriented district,” Garboski said. “We presented it to the Town [of Brookhaven]. They accepted it and it kind of got left on the shelf somewhere. We’ve been working on it behind the scenes, but until we got a new councilperson, now it’s really being pushed.”

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D) is steering the initiative through town hall. According to Kornreich, redevelopment at Jefferson Plaza will help to revitalize the area.

“Redeveloping a site like that is going to really be vital to the rebirth of the Port Jefferson Station area,” he said. “As far as the town goes, in order to encourage redevelopment of sites like that, there was a new code created to encourage redevelopment to those types of properties.” 

Kornreich said that the change of town code will allow for the construction of residential housing units at the plaza. He added that this change will also promote inclusion for people with disabilities. 

“It’s going to create a greater diversity of housing options, which is something that’s very important for people as they get older and for younger people who are just starting out,” he said. “Also, there’s going to be a significant portion of the residential units there that are dedicated to people with disabilities.” He added, “Having a supportive environment for them that’s also walkable is going to be very valuable to the community as whole.”

Kornreich believes the Jefferson Plaza project will relieve traffic congestion, a problem for Port Jeff Station.

“Residential development generates less traffic than commercial development,” Kornreich said. “When you have a residential unit, people come and go once or twice a day. That same place, if it’s commercial development, is going to have 30, 40, 60 people an hour coming in and out.”

Local leaders expressed optimism that the Port Jeff Station community may soon link up to one of the neighboring sewer districts. The map above shows the geographic areas currently covered by sewers. The Suffolk County Department of Information Technology, GIS Division, granted permission to use data. Map generated by Raymond Janis

The additional step of adding a sewer extension is critical for the realization of this project. According to Salvatore Pitti, outgoing president and incoming vice president of PJSTCA, without a sewer line, redevelopment at the plaza will not be possible.

“One of our big problems here is also sewers,” Pitti said. “If we don’t get sewers, there is no way any of these restaurants or buildings are ever going to work. We’re currently in talks with Suffolk County to try to get sewers here.”

Pitti offered several possible sewer plant locations to which Jefferson Plaza could be attached in the future. He said the most ideal scenario would be to link the area to the Tallmadge Woods sewer district.

“What we’re pushing for is hopefully the Mount Sinai sewage plant, which is Tallmadge,” Pitti said. “Suffolk County is in talks with the town supposedly about trying to expand that sewer plant [to cover more area], but that’s another two-year project before we even hear if that’s going to work or not work.”  

Another important question will be where to put the Port Jefferson Station Post Office, which is presently situated in the plaza. According to Garboski, the post office is under federal lease until 2024, at which point construction can begin. “They have a lease,” he said. “The lease still goes another few years and there are other options as to where they can put the post office.” 

Pitti added, “That’s more of a federal thing that is way out of our hands.”

According to Pitti, the businesses that currently occupy the plaza are staples with longstanding ties to the Port Jefferson Station community. He said that it will be a challenge moving forward to accommodate both the aims of the developers and the interests of the business owners who fill those storefronts and who may wish to stay.

“I mean, it’s a business that [the developer] has to work out with the [current tenants] if they want to stay there or if they don’t want to stay,” Pitti said. “Honestly, I think they’re going to pretty much level the place and start construction because, fiscally, I don’t think it makes much sense to do half and half.” He added, “We asked the [developer] to do as best as he can to keep them in our community. Whether that happens or not is unfortunately between him and the [business] owners.”

According to Garboski, the developers are “looking to put in […] about $100 million into this project. That’s going to be a shot in the arm for the local economy. They’re serious, they’re putting serious money into it.”

He said that kind of private investment into the local economy is what the area needs to counteract its gradual decline and will encourage other real estate developers to join in. 

“This is the first project that’s going to get revitalized and when it does, it’s going to set a precedent for the rest of the street and the rest of the developers,” Garboski said.  

Although projects such as these seem to always receive some form of local opposition, Kornreich believes the community will soon notice the positive impact of redeveloping Port Jefferson Plaza.

“People get nervous sometimes when new projects are being proposed,” the councilmember said. “I’ve never seen a project that was universally loved from day one, but generally speaking once stuff gets built and people see it and they realize the positive change it has on the community, people tend to like it most of the time.”

Erwin Staller. Photo from Stony Brook University

The Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University is preparing to celebrate the life of Long Island real estate developer and philanthropist, Erwin Staller. A memorial service has been set for April 27 at the venue to remember the SBU benefactor who died Feb. 11, at age 97, at his Lloyd Harbor home.

“Over the years, Erwin Staller’s commitment to the center and to the university was steadfast,” said Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center. “He, along with his wife Pearl [affectionately called Freddie], his son Cary and the extended family, has been a true supporter of the arts and has been the foundation of the center’s success.”

After his father’s death in 1987, Staller and his family donated the first seven-figure gift to SBU of $1.8 million. The donation resulted in the establishment of The Staller Center for the Arts in memory of his parents, Max and Mary Staller. The developer received the Stony Brook Medal for Extraordinary Service in 1989 and an honorary doctorate of humane letters at SBU in 2001. He also served on the Stony Brook Foundation board of trustees for more than 30 years and was founding chair of Stony Brook Foundation Realty.

“It was always a pleasure to have him and Freddie in the audience knowing how much he enjoyed all kinds of performances,” Inkles said. “As a philanthropist, adviser and friend to the arts, the university and to the region, he will be greatly missed.”

In a letter sent to SBU faculty after Staller’s passing, SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said the initial donation of $1.8 million helped “create a foundation for the Staller’s legacy of philanthropy at Stony Brook University spanning 35 years.” Staller and his wife also funded Staller Scholars, which provides scholarships for graduate music students pursuing doctorates in the Department of Music.

The university credits Staller for championing a project to have a campus hotel for more than 23 years until its fruition in 2013. As a result, the roadway between Hilton Garden Inn and the Administration building will be dedicated as Erwin P. Staller Way.

Stanley said Staller, his wife, family and friends joined together in supporting the Staller Center’s mission, and to date they have contributed more than $16 million to fund various programs.

“As we reflect on Erwin’s myriad contributions in time and treasure to benefit our students, faculty, staff and our community, though I will miss him dearly, I am inspired by Erwin Staller’s vision and focus, and in the knowledge that his powerful legacy will live on at Stony Brook for generations to come,” Stanley said.

Staller was raised in Hempstead where he graduated from Hempstead High School. He attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania before enlisting in the U.S. Army and served in the Signal Corps during World War II. In 1946, Staller married Pearl Friedman, whom he had dated in high school, and the couple had five children.

In the late 1950s, Staller and his father co-founded Hauppauge-based Staller Associates, and became among the first entrepreneurs to develop retail shopping centers on Long Island. A supermarket, drugstore and a U.S. Post Office anchored each of their early shopping centers. Together, the father-son duo developed numerous shopping centers, office and industrial buildings on Long Island and in Connecticut.

Staller is survived by his wife, four children and their spouses, and nine grandchildren.

The memorial service will be held April 27 at 1 p.m. The Staller Center is located at 100 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook.