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Main Street Association Looks at 10 Years of Hamlet Revitalization

The Oyster Bay Main Street Association members and friends gathered for their annual meeting on Sept. 15 to celebrate 10 years of improvements in the Oyster Bay hamlet. There was good news – of work the MSA has done, thanks to retiring board members, praise for local businesses that have restored their own sites, and the announcement of a $200,000 grant from the New York Main Street program that the MSA is administering.

MSA President Ellen Roché complimented Executive Director Isaac Kremer who came to them, “with a passion for the National Main Street model and came with the knowledge of how to implement it,” she said. It is a model that uses revitalization of historic buildings as an impetus to improvement of the commercial area – and during the evening the fate of the Octagon Hotel was a continuing theme. Town of Oyster Bay Commissioner of Planning and Development Fredrick Ippolito spoke. He told the group that when he accepted his new position with the town, Supervisor John Venditto told him to save the Octagon Hotel. He said a steel company has been contracted to shore up the building so that work on the basement can proceed safely. The building will contain stores on the ground level and five apartments above. MSA and the many organizations that are part of the Oyster Bay Preservation Roundtable get credit for focusing on saving the site.

Ms. Roché introduced board members and gave special thanks to four who have served three, three year terms after which their bylaws retire them (in April). Gifts of appreciation were presented to Jack Bernstein, George O’Neill (in absentia), Bill Sheeline and Jerritt Gluck.

Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs (D – Woodbury) announced that her offer to help Oyster Bay erect street signs such as now exist in East Norwich has been seconded by Supervisor John Venditto, “If you so desire,” she added. Later Mr. Venditto, a Republican, added that the decision to work together on the project took minutes to decide and that bi-partisan co-operation is typical of his administration. [The public still needs to ask for the project.] And, as Mr. Bernstein noted, South Street is a state road and the project would need the help of Senator Marcellino.

NYS Senator Carl Marcellino said he and his wife Patricia recently “played tourist” and visited Sagamore Hill and Planting Fields – camera in hand, and he suggested others do the same. He complimented the MSA as a mover and shaker and grant getter and for working with the community. “Always talk to the community. You are better off for it,” said the senator.

Supervisor John Venditto added to Ms. Jacobs announcement of the potential sign program for the hamlet – his desire to decrease the sign pollution in the downtown area and his approval of signage in the historic mode of the hamlet. He added, “Nothing happens until we have consensus.” He said at the onset of MSA, they were “frightening” but soon became a most constructive associate. He said they were 0 to 2 for projects (the carousel and the TR Museum) but said they would find the right fit for the town. “If we continue to dialog, meeting and working together; the best is yet to come,” said Mr. Venditto.

The mention of the museum’s demise, had Jack Bernstein comment that the TR Museum was not a dead issue, but that it was worthwhile and would return in the future.

Isaac Kremer introduced the four speakers who reported on their committees: Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Restructuring that form the grid upon which the Main Street Association model bases its work of revitalization of small towns struggling in the wake of the development of the mall centered mentality.

He said the MSA started at breakfast meetings in the Book Mark Café located in the landmark Moore’s building that had housed the secretarial office of former President Theodore Roosevelt. To illustrate that, he flashed on the screen a picture of the Mort Künstler painting commissioned by Roger Bahnik of TR in a Fourth of July parade, at the corner of South Street and East Main Street with the Moore’s building in the background.

Mr. Kremer gave a presentation on the 10-year history of the MSA working in the hamlet, that first laid out a plan and vision for the hamlet. Dan Burden of Walkable Communities was invited to come to talk to residents in a forum called, Oyster Bay: Your Town/Your Future. Funds were donated by the Rauch Foundation and the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay to support the work of MSA. They set out 64 goals and three were realized 100 percent, improving the quality of life; the commercial appearance of the town; and promoting the business environment. Mr. Kremer said 36 of their 64 goals have been realized in the past seven years – in varying percentages.

Projects included nautical kiosks; the map of the area featuring cultural destinations; promoting the Holidays in Oyster Bay which was featured in the National Preservation newsletter; at which they added free carriage rides.

Mr. Kremer presented a slide show with before and after photographs of businesses that have improved their facades over the last 10 years. Many of the projects were done by private business owners on their own, and many were done with the help of MSA. They worked with Renaissance Properties Associates [formerly known as Island Properties, the management organization from Charles Wang properties in Oyster Bay] on about 10 sites; as well as advising others on signage and façade improvements. (Speaking of new businesses, he mentioned that Lynne Gerald, new Oyster Bay business owner of What’s Cooking on East Main Street, a Renaissance property, was on the Martha Stewart radio show on Sept. 15, and would be returning.)

Parking improvements in town include the tree-lined path in the West Main Street parking lot that was to resemble an orchard [the Townsend family had an apple orchard there centuries ago], done with Island Properties. Work on the parking lot behind Townsend Square was done with the Town of Oyster Bay. [Remember the tree planted on Arbor Day 2008 by Save the Jewel by the Bay, in the area in front of the Oyster Bay Community Center.] He also mentioned the new lampposts now on Audrey Avenue as well as in the Townsend Square parking lot.

New businesses have been attracted to the hamlet over the past 10 years including Chrison & Bellina; and Ben’s Garden, whose pieces all say “Made in Oyster Bay,” related Mr. Kremer.

Mr. Kremer mentioned the Trolley they arranged for through American Express funding for the Passport to Old Oyster Bay program and said it could come back. [The trolley is one of the elements of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum/Visitor’s Center concept.]

He thanked Felice Randall of the Town of Oyster Bay Intergovernmental Affairs department for administering the HUD matching grants of 50 percent for signage. “Dozens have been completed,” said Mr. Kremer. One is in the loop for the Teaching Studios of Art on Audrey Avenue which held a successful grand opening reception on Friday, Sept. 25. [The new business is located on South Street in what many years ago was known as Ida’s Folly, a tavern known to attract a sailing crowd.] More street lamps for Audrey Avenue is another project in the making. “Small touches make a big difference,” he said.

The façade improvements to Buckingham’s Variety store, a Renaissance Property, were designed by Ellen Roché, he added.

As he told the story of those 10 years, he mentioned the tragedies of 2004 with the destructive fires at the Matinecock Lodge and Nobman’s Hardware Emporium. The Masons resurrected their building, as did the Nobman’s – which now houses the store and eight apartments above, creating a good mix for urbanization and brings new people into the hamlet.

MSA administered a grant of $45,600 that resulted in a plan designed by Saratoga Associates for a plaza entrance at the foot of Audrey Avenue – with a clock – in front of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum.

He said the Mellillo family worked on their own façade program on West Main Street transforming the insurance company building with attractive signage and awnings.

On the larger scale, he said with the proposal for the TR Museum in Oyster Bay, the Main Street Association [and the Oyster Bay Civic Association] funded the return of Dan Burden for another Walkable Communities event, this time in relation to Firemen’s Field as the location of the proposed museum. [It was a project fraught with controversy which stalled as they were offered not Firemen’s Field, but land over a sump, which some considered environmentally problematic – and ended in March 2008 with the Theodore Roosevelt Association sending out notice that the project was on hold because of the economy.]

He thanked Rotary, the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Oyster Bay Civic Association for working with MSA on the flower basket project.

Mr. Kremer said on Wednesday, Sept. 16, he was going to chat with the owners of Snouder’s on a proposal for a TR exhibit for the corner drugstore’s window. He said there were plans for a new historic sign for the Tex-Mex restaurant; and awnings for the bank building. He showed a slide of himself presenting a check for $36,000 to Town Supervisor Venditto to purchase a street sweeper for the hamlet. The money was from NYS Senator Carl Marcellino who funded a similar project in Huntington.

Mr. Kremer said the sweeper goes through the hamlet at 3 a.m. “Oyster Bay is cleaner and better than in a long while,” he said.

He praised Christ Church’s Rev. Peter Casparian for his leadership and his “Stick-to-it-iveness” in the projects at the renovated parish hall with a new entrance off the raised driveway into the church property.

He showed with a slide of the new office of Friends of the Bay in Townsend Square and the fountain area behind Chrison & Bellina which was used as the location for some of the Sundown Concert series.

He showed a slide of the brick sidewalk in front of Richard Hutchinson’s building on South Street, another success story. Mr. Kremer said, “Oyster Bay is better because of all of your efforts.”

NYS Main Street Grant

Mr. Kremer said 18 days before the meeting, he received the letter notifying him that MSA received a $200,000 grant for downtown revitalization. There will be 10 commercial projects; 10 residential projects; and five façade projects that are eligible for funding. A meeting was held on Sept. 24 for interested business to get the guidelines for applications that are due on Oct. 3. Mr. Kremer said, “There was a good representation at the meeting including two businesses just in the process of finalizing their deals in Oyster Bay. Several business owners wanted to improve their properties.” He said the MSA will announce the results in mid-October. MSA will evaluate and chose the projects. “Like John Venditto said, ‘The best is yet to be,’” concluded Mr. Kremer.

Committee members spoke on their group’s work. John Bonifacio, Organization Committee chair said over the years the Rauch Foundation has given over $1million to MSA projects. Street signage is next, and it will make a dramatic change in the hamlet, he said. He added, he is the new MSA vice president and that the new Organization committee chair will be Bill Burke. They asked people to return the MSA surveys asking for their suggestions of what they wanted to see happen in the hamlet.

Diane Meltzer spoke for the Promotion Committee, who are “scheming and dreaming to entice you to come downtown.” She said the present Oyster Bay history map will become a visitor’s guide brochure and business directory with bike paths and maybe a water path for kayaks. [Friends of the Bay is the lead agency working on a grant to create a brochure for a kayak path through the Oyster Bay Wildlife Refuge to acquaint people with this hidden resource.]

Ms. Meltzer mentioned the Talk of the Town audio tours available at The Baykery Café at 124 South Street, and noted that Kieran Shea, owner, was in the audience.

Ms. Meltzer said she was proud of the First Annual Sunset Series of 12 concerts held June through August in the hamlet. She thanked Pam Feiffer for her help.

The Sunset Series is an expansion of the longtime Neighborhood Nights program created by the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce Visitors Committee for local destinations such as Raynham Hall Museum; the Earle Wightman House of the Oyster Bay Historical Society; the TR Sanctuary; Planting Fields – that are all open one night a year - free to local residents to come, picnic and be entertained. Most of the sites are usually open only during the day, and have an admission charge. Neighborhood Nights was created to encourage local residents to come see the places that attract tourists to town.

Ms. Meltzer said the Promotion Committee meets the third Thursday of the month for coffee at The Baykery at 124 South Street at 8:30 a.m. and she invited people to come and give the group your ideas.

The Design Committee is headed by Dennis Belfiore who was unable to attend. The committee members include: Rob Brusca, Henry Clark, Dennis Browner, Kathy Prinz, Dorothy Simons and Chris Robinson.

Jack Bernstein of the Economic Restructuring Committee reported that new businesses have opened in the hamlet: Friends of the Bay has an office location at Townsend Square; Tex-Mex Restaurant; FootPrinz; Blue Water Spa; L’Industrie; The Chocolate Lady; What’s Cooking; Shangi La Spa; Superstar Beverage of Oyster Bay; Teaching Studios; Chase Edwards Gallery; and Atelier Gallery & Studio.

Mr. Bernstein said they can get the TR Museum project re-started since it is worthwhile; and the triangle park with the statue of TR will be ready within a year. He added a trolley could be here in the future if people are interested. It is part of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum concept and it would travel to Planting Fields, Sagamore Hill, local historic sites and be kept in the museum’s train yard.

More Thank Yous

The MSA presented the President’s Awards to the Rauch Foundation, represented by Patsy Randolph; and to Charles Dolan for his generosity; to Dorothy Simons for her work on the Design and Beautification Committee; and to Commissioner Fred Ippolito for his contributions to the saving of the Octagon Hotel.

Mr. Ippolito said it was difficult getting started but the hotel has been cleaned up; a contractor retained for steel support to allow the work on the basement to be done. It is a couple of weeks away, he said. The new Octagon Hotel building will have stores on the first floor and five apartments above. The owner is Mr. Belcastro, he said responding to a question from Caroline DuBois.

The evening focused on what has been happening in the downtown area over the past 10 years, and as people left the hamlet, Audrey Avenue was blocked to traffic as the very successful Cruise Nights continued its work of bringing people to town. Created by the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce it demonstrates that the community groups are all working to enhance the hamlet, little by little, piece by piece, organization by organization and in some cases, grant by grant.

The MSA meeting concluded with a report by Tom Ross, superintendent of Sagamore Hill, which was covered in the Sept. 24 issue of the Enterprise Pilot.