Elected officials and economic development leaders gathered in what felt like balmy temperatures on Friday to officially unveil The Hampton Business District at Gabreski.
The future business and technology center, located at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, promises to prove an economic boon to the area, said County Executive Steve Levy.
Levy began by welcoming elected officials such as Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and former Supervisor Skip Heaney, who he said was integral to the project’s current success.
The county executive said that although for years, the project has been primarily “talk, talk, talk,” Friday’s unveiling meant moving forward. He said it is now, “action, action, action.”
The goal, he said, is to create “career-oriented jobs” and shape opportunities while still maintaining a balance and respect for the environment – as well as the surrounding community “that cherishes tranquility.”
The hope, he said, is to foster jobs in fields such as film production, homeland security and the high tech area.
When the idea for the county/town partnership for an economic park was born in 2005, said Levy, originally there was a “tug of war over who was going to be the headcheese.” But, he said, the Town of Southampton and the county worked together and collaborated to address zoning and other concerns.
With approximately $1.8 million in new infrastructure recently completed at the site by the county, Levy said that first stage signified a “beautiful and radical change to what people were used to seeing before.” He joked that the road “was probably the most well maintained in the county,” as it was the first time cars had traversed the new vista.
All roads, sewers, curbs and a new main entrance and gateway have been completed, with brick and mortar still to come.
Friday’s ribbon cutting ceremony not only celebrated what has been accomplished, but what is to come — the promise of the 600-700 “high paying jobs” at the 58-acre, 433,000 square foot parcel.
Gregg and Mitchell Rechler of Rechler Equity Partners, who are the developers of the project, say they are aiming to invest close to $100 million in the project.
The Hampton Business District at Gabreski is anticipated to generate more than $7 million in rental revenue to the county over the next ten years and more than $40 million over the life of the 40-year lease.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst thanked all involved and said, with the town board “knee-deep” in planned development district reform and legislation, the Gabreski Airport Planned Development District is a shining example of “how well this can be done.”
The supervisor said the hub will prove invaluable to the younger generation, providing jobs so they can “stay in the area” where they grew up and raise families.
And she said community input was invaluable to the successful outcome of the plan so far.
Levy introduced Heaney, who he said had prepared no remarks, but without whom, he said, “this never would have gotten done.”
Heaney credited Jim Morgo, who was instrumental in the process in helping to facilitate harmony between the town and county.
When the town and county ultimately sat down, said Heaney, despite a long, rocky road, the goal was to “just work this out.”
“There was only going to be one outcome. We were not going to accept failure,” he said.
The planned development district, he said, demonstrates “the power” created when the community and a developer work together in a “collaborative manner.”
Heaney said it was symbolic that the event was held in a circle, “or hub,” from which a wheel of progress would emerge that would “support the community.”
In recent weeks, however, some concerns have been raised from residents about a new proposal to develop a three-story hotel at the site instead of a two, 145-room hotel and conference center.
Westhampton Mayor Conrad Teller has been quotes as saying he is against the change.
Throne-Holst said that yes, there have been some proposed changes to the plan, but she is certain they can be agreed upon.
One feature Levy applauded was adaptive reuse of an area that was already utilized for industry.
“This is not a matter of going into virgin territory with a bulldozer,” he said.
The county executive highlighted the importance of the community advisory committee that had worked hard on the process and invited chair Beecher Halsey to speak.
Levy created the advisory board said Halsey, without which there would have been “a lot of acrimony.”
He thanked Levy for giving residents a voice.
Questions from the crowd involved impact on the Enterprise Park at Calverton; Levy said he did not believe the projects were mutually exclusive, but instead could be “symbiotic.”
“This has been a long time in the making,” said Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman. Schneiderman said he came although not invited; he said that he and Levy have been sparring in recent months on issues including the sex offender trailers and Sunday bus service.