SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Long Island communities looking to bring life back to struggling downtown are seeing a building boom, and they’re not building big box stores anymore.
They’re building housing.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff was at one ground breaking in Smithtown.
It was a beautiful fall day, and yet sidewalks were empty downtown. But that could soon change: Smart growth is coming.
It was groundbreaking for the north shore township’s first transit-oriented development, walking distance to the Long Island Rail Road.
Privately funded, 71 luxury loft-style rentals with retail space below are coming to the heart of its now struggling downtown, bring much-needed tax revenue to a long vacant lot, attracting young people now fleeing Long Island.
“They want to live in environments with vibrant downtowns and to put the housing here, which give them and it helps the small businesses,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.
Suburban small businesses have been decimated, first by box stores, then online shopping. Some Smithtown merchants wonder if it’s too little, too late.
“It will benefit the bars, restaurants and hair cutting places. But stores selling products, that’s come and gone, unfortunately,” said store owner John Scandariato.
Others hope that if you build it, they will come.
“I would love to have more people fill up these empty store fronts,” one person told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
It’s working elsewhere. Forty Long Island communities are implementing smart growth plans, from Patchogue with a vibrant arts scene, Farmingdale with a rebirth of nightlife, to Westbury luring millennials.
“There are events and activities and vibrancy to a town center,” said Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island.
Smithtown is hoping to attract new life.
“Walkable downtowns, where there are restaurants and pubs, where they can walk rather than drive and they want to live in an apartment,” said Smithtown supervisor Ed Wehrheim.
Planners say you can’t revitalize like Smithtown’s without first building appealing housing for young people.
The new development will be ready for millennials and empty nesters in less than two years.
Long Island has seen more than 13,000 new transit-oriented apartments approved and built over the last decade.