Over 100 Gather at First Meeting of the Long Island Main Street Alliance

Over one hundred small businesses, chambers, civics and local officials braved flash floods on Tuesday in Farmingdale for the first meeting of the LI Main Street Alliance to focus on bringing resources to their downtown business districts.

Speakers included Albert Brenner from People’s United Bank, Harry Coghlan from the Nassau County IDA, Tony Catapano from the Suffolk County IDA, John Keating from PSEG Long Island, Kathy Wisnewski from National Grid, and Peter Daly from GettinLocal all spoke at the event.

It opened with a welcome from Vision Long Island Director Eric Alexander and a thank you to the participating organizations for the event. This included the Long Island Business Council, the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers, and Vision Long Island. 

The first order of business was addressing the moratorium on natural gas that impacts 2,400 applications for service in the last two months.  Of those 400 applications are for new service which impacts the construction of 12,000 residential units in the region with roughly 2,000 from downtown, TOD, Main Street and affordable housing units on Long Island.  The delay also impacts commercial and institutional development including downtown small businesses, hospitals, schools, supermarkets, industrial and office buildings.  The remaining 2,000 applications in the moratorium are conversions from carbon polluting home heating oil to natural gas or expanded gas services for residential homes or local businesses.

The attendees spoke of delays for downtown TOD and affordable housing projects and small businesses openings in downtown Farmingdale, Central Islip, Bellport, Baldwin, Lynbrook, Uniondale, Huntington Station among others.  Letters are being collected to the NYS DEC who will make the final decision on the proposed “Williams pipeline” and public demonstrations are also being planned. 

There was also the announcement of a rally in Lynbrook to raise support for passage of this important regional project.   The rally will take place August 7th at 10 am in downtown Lynbrook and the Mayor and some Trustees will be there.  People can also continue to write letters of support here.

Albert Brenner Senior Vice President of People’s United Bank provided a comprehensive economic update for the region that includes a slow but long economic expansion with a decline on LI of manufacturing jobs into health care and social services delivery.  He covered our region’s assets and opportunities with a focus on downtowns to increase density for housing and commercial development, preserve existing housing stock, provide small business incubation.  To the delight of the attendees he also emphasized the economic importance of placemaking for improved public spaces in our Main Street business districts. He started by stating that even though you may not see a direct reflection of trends in the economic market on Main Street, that all economics was local.  Mr. Brenner talked about how we are in the longest period of economic growth in the US right now, but that it’s been exceptionally slow when compared to previous periods.  However, Main Street provides certain unique challenges that require investment by both private and public entities.  Aging building stock needs to be updated while new types of businesses are needed to attract foot traffic and bring outside money into the area.  There’s also now a need for community in the downtowns as millennials have shown a preference for urban living.  This comes as Long Island’s population is aging and there is a rising need for affordable housing to help keep youth on Long Island.

Harry Coghlan Director of the Nassau IDA spoke about their actions to create local partnerships and increased transparency of IDA funding with a full commitment to downtown growth.  They also now have a radio show to better communicate the economic development activities in Nassau County. Mr. Coghlan began by talking about how his background was in the private sector and how that gave him the perspective to see that the IDA needed to raise awareness about its mission.  He moved to begin marketing and advertising the IDA as a resource for Main Street businesses.  He also talked about how the IDA is collaborating with Suffolk IDA and local businesses to create a better environment for everyone.  In particular, the IDA has partnered with Discover Long Island and National Grid to create a “Businesses Belong on Long Island” campaign.  He also took time to praise the work of some downtowns on Long Island, such as the work in the Town of Hempstead to create a path forward on important regional projects.

The Suffolk County IDA’s Tony Catapano was up next, talking about his 20 years of experience with the organization.  The IDA has been in existence for 50 years now and, in that time, has evolved beyond its industrial roots into an tool used to assist Long Island’s economy.  Part of that support includes finding places for residents in downtowns to support local business.  This includes assisting a couple of projects in Huntington Station and the Port Jeff shipyard project as well as support for the small business incubator LaunchPad in Huntington.  Mr. Catapano also talked about Suffolk County’s Downtown Revitalization program, which has partnered with multiple municipalities to help revitalize neglected areas.  The IDA has also worked to educate by funding studies into TOD in downtowns. Mr. Catapano spoke about their efforts underway with projects in downtown Kings Park, Ronkonkoma HUB, Huntington Station, Northport and their ongoing commitment to Main Streets and transit oriented development.   Both IDA’s are working together on regionwide marketing programs to attract and retain local businesses and jobs.

John Keating from PSEG Long Island was the next speaker, and he started by laying out a brief history of how the company came to be in charge of Long Island’s electric grid on behalf of LIPA.  He also spoke about how they were the most improved utility company in the nation, improving from last to middle of the pack in recent years.  One of the ways they’ve done that is to reach out to local business with new economic programs, which also included over 1100 volunteer outreach events.  PSEG worked to implement a Main Street Revitalization Program as well as a Vacant Space Program.  Both of these have helped to fill previously vacant storefronts and bring new life to local downtowns.  Local developer Michael Puntillo was in the crowd and stood up to add his voice to the effectiveness of these programs.

Kathy Wisnewski from National Grid talked next on the work that her company has been doing to help storm-harden gas lines that were damaged by saltwater during Sandy.  She’s also talked about the Cinderella program with $250,000 in grants available for rehabilitation.  This is just part of a half dozen economic development grants that include brownfield redevelopment, marketing, efficieny programs, rebates for maintenance upgrades, an insulation among other things.  She also talked about the ongoing issue with NESE pipeline and how it has held up development in Brooklyn and Long Island.  Since May 15th National Grid has received 2400 applications, including 420 for new constructions and 2,000 housing units on Long Island.  Though National Grid is still taking applications, nothing can be processed at the moment.  The comment period is still open for the project until August 7th, and you can write your support here.

The final speaker of the day was Peter Daly from GettinLocal, who spoke on how to bring customers and sales to Main Street. The Westbury-based mobile marketing company works to make Main Street companies more visible in today’s online market.  Greater than 65% of all searches take place on a mobile device, which has led major companies to focus efforts on reaching those devices.  This has left Main Street businesses at a disadvantage when someone less than a mile from their location can’t see it on a search.  He also talked about the need to move beyond just a mobile website and focus more on promoting the business itself, which is what his company focusses on.

Other downtown and coalition updates included Gina Coletti from the Suffolk Chambers who covered their work creating a health collaborative to provide health care for local businesses and Julie Marchesella and Mariano Ugalde from the Nassau Chambers spoke about their participation in the Nassau HUB next steps coalition mapping out plans for the Coliseum area and other upcoming events.  Elizabeth Wellington from the LI African American Chamber covered their groups networking meetings growing the Island’s diverse small business base.   Updates from individual downtown communities and the LI Business Council were also provided.

The LI Main Street Alliance is convened by Vision Long Island for the 40 Long Island communities that have downtown revitalization plans and programs creating a unified public voice to bring attention and resources to local neighborhoods.