Dec. 14 marked a new day in New Cassel. A day more than 20 years in the making and one that so many had only dreamed of seeing come to fruition. It was on this day that residents, civic leaders and members of various community organizations filled the First Baptist Church of Westbury to capacity in honor of the official groundbreaking ceremony for the New Cassel Revitalization Project.
On hand to break ground on Site "B" were Nassau County Legislator Roger Corbin; County Executive Thomas Suozzi; Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy; United States Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton; North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman; Rev. Dr. Lionel Harvey, president of the Unified New Cassel Community Revitalization Corporation; former North Hempstead Supervisor May Newburger; North Hempstead Councilman Robert Troiano and Sarah Landsale, executive director of Sustainable Long Island.
"This is a great time for the town. It is a time where we have shown that when people come together, good things can happen," said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman. "When people come together with a vision, in a partnership and with a goal in a community, we can make a difference ..."
This memorable day in New Cassel was a collaborative effort between town, county, state and federal forces. Joining Clinton were Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, Supervisor Kaiman and Town Councilman Robert Troiano, along with leaders from the UNCCRC, the North Hempstead Community Development Agency and Sustainable Long Island. Prior to the indoor festivities, Clinton officially broke ground on Site "B," which is located between Siegel and Sheridan Streets along Prospect Avenue, and presented the town with a $1.25 million check.
"I am so honored to be here and so delighted that this day has come. This has been a long time effort, which involved so many of you. I am proud to be your partner in making this vision a reality," said Clinton. "I am very excited about what this means for this community, but I am particularly pleased that it was a community effort, which started right here in this church, that led to this day. This is a wonderful example of a faith-based initiative. This is a project that will stand the test of time, that will not just blow in the wind and everyone is behind it."
The monies secured by Clinton will be used to support road and streetscape improvements and provide for the construction and gap financing of mixed-use buildings projects along the Prospect Avenue and Union Avenue corridors in the economically distressed hamlet of New Cassel. Earlier this month, Clinton announced that Congress had approved the funding in the Transportation, Treasury, Independent Agencies and General Government and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies sections of the Fiscal Year 2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. This funding comes in addition to $75,000 in HUD Economic Development Initiative funds that Clinton secured along with her colleagues last year to support the effort.
According to Kaiman, Senator Clinton has embraced the communities within the Town of North Hempstead. "She has fought for us from the southern tier to the northern tier, from the eastern part to the western part. She has been receptive to our concerns and our issues," he said. "We understand that every problem cannot be solved, but its nice to have an elected official, in the highest level of government, willing to listen to us and spend time working on behalf of our residents to try to make a difference in their lives."
Kaiman added that the New Cassel Revitalization Project is a labor of love for the entire community. "We understand that there will be some roadblocks along the way and that we will make some mistakes, but at the end of the day, we believe we are going to have a brand new main street," he said. "And that's because of all the people in this room and all the people in this community who have come together and participated, let their voices be heard and put themselves on the line. Today we have our ground breaking. So thank you to everybody and everyone who made a difference today."
According to Troiano, the New Cassel Revitalization Project will benefit the community as a whole, and, in praising the Westbury High School Select Gospel Choir - who performed at the ceremony, said, "I want to thank these children behind me. This is all about them."
McCarthy added, "Senator Clinton always says that it takes a village to raise a child and that's what we are seeing here. With everyone pulling together, this is what it's all about. One person can make a difference and when you bring a whole community together, there is no stopping it."
Suozzi said there are a lot of places that make sense in Nassau County for revitalization, but one of the main places is Prospect Avenue in New Cassel. "This is the future," he said, adding, "I have two favorite sayings that I like to use all the time. Number one is 'If it was easy, somebody would have done it already.' And number two is, 'It takes teamwork to make a dream work.' And this project, what's happening here today in this community, is a perfect illustration of both of those messages. After years of being ignored and promises being made and not being kept ... [the people of New Cassel] stuck together and worked together as a team to make this happen."
According to Rev. Harvey, pastor of First Baptist Church and president of UNCCRC, the idea to revitalize New Cassel was first presented to him some six years ago. "I was approached by [Rev.] Patrick Duggan [former executive director of Sustainable Long Island] and Sustainable Long Island and it was suggested to me that I had the ability to pull this community together," said Rev. Harvey. "I heard so many different horror stories, but one of the great things that took place is that the community pulled itself together. This shows you what can be done. It took everyone in this room, helping one another, sacrificing, giving of their time and talent. This is the first day of the rest of our lives."
He added that nothing would have been possible "without the Unified New Cassel Revitalization Corporation, without the Sheila Tates, without the Sarah [Landsales] and without the Amy [Hagedorns] and all the people who worked so hard ... and gave selfishly ... and made sure New Cassel came together."
Former North Hempstead Supervisor May Newburger reflected on when she visited New Cassel during her campaign for town council. "I left and said, 'I have never heard of New Cassel.' I did not know it existed. And I think that is what we have repaired. It's not that you were neglected; you were ignored. I thank you all for helping me see it. So this day is about the people who were involved all along, including Mildred Little, Margaret Miller-Scott, and so many more. I learned from you and I hope that I listened."
The New Cassel Revitalization project represents some $58 million of public and private investment in the community and approximately 263,500 square feet of mixed-use development, which will include 238 residential dwelling units. Nassau County, the Town of North Hempstead, the CDA, UNCCRC, Sustainable Long Island and members of the community began the process several years ago and chose to focus revitalization plans on Prospect Avenue by combining government and CDA resources.
In 2002, residents, business and property owners, civic groups, labor leaders, clergy, seniors, homeowners, renters, government officials and youth joined together to create a vision for a revitalized New Cassel. The result was the New Cassel Vision Plan, which calls for a proposed reconstruction of the Prospect Avenue and Union Avenue corridors, New Cassel's main streets to help create a walkable, mixed-use downtown area that is attractive to new retail and commercial investment. In November 2003, the town sent out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and by the March 2004 deadline, 16 development groups with 34 different proposals for seven different properties had been submitted.
As a result, the following proposals were granted:
The "Pilot Project" pertains to property located at Prospect Avenue between Grand and Sherman Streets and is a partnership between A & C Development Partners - a real estate development company made up of the AIM Development Group, Sustainable Long Island and the UNCCRC. Site "A" was awarded to the Bluestone Organization, a third-generation, family-owned, full-service real estate development business that has been developing housing in the New York market for 70 years and is located on a vacant piece of property on the corner of Prospect Avenue and Brush Hollow Road.
Like Site "B," Sites "C" and "D" were awarded to Stoneridge Homes, Inc. and are situated on two full blocks near the Prospect Avenue and Sheridan Street intersection - directly across from the "Pilot Project." Site "E" is a joint partnership between the Sheldrake Organization and UNCCRC, and refers to the south side of Prospect Avenue between State and Bond Streets. Site "F," located at 512 and 514 Union Avenue, will be developed through a partnership between Douglas Development, LLC and the Anna and Philip Kimmel Foundation. The final site, located at 542 Union Avenue, is being revitalized by its current property owner, Wheatley Hills Nursery. This project will include renovation of the existing site to tie into the revitalization project.
Deputy Presiding Officer Roger Corbin, who reflected upon Prospect Avenue as a dirt road back when his parents moved to New Cassel in 1957, thanked developers such as Raj Batheja and Eric Bluestone (Site "B") for "putting their money where their mouth is."