Seizing The Day
“Long Island needs a shot in the arm,” says Roger Clayman, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “It needs an infusion of job-creating investment.”
With that in mind, his union organization is backing a renewed push by William S. Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers, Inc., to build the first mall in 40 years in Nassau County on the former home of the Cerro Wire Factory in Syosset. Taubman wants to bring high-end retailers Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York to what was once a Superfund site that today is bordered by, as he put it in a recent op-ed in Newsday, “the Long Island Expressway, two storage facilities for highway equipment, a garbage dump and the Long Island Rail Road.” And despite the economic doldrums, Nordstrom, for one, says it wants in.
The Town of Oyster Bay has been fighting Taubman for almost 20 years, and Supervisor John Venditto, a Republican, refuses to give up.
“[F]rom the standpoint of the Town and many residents who live in the area,” Venditto tells the Press in a statement. “The quality of life issues outweigh the economic issues.”
The Great Recession may tip the balance.
Clayman says the $700-million Mall at Oyster Bay represents the most “rational approach” to the site, which might explain why it made it to the short list of 13 projects designated by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council as having “regional significance” and presented in Albany on Nov. 28. Cuomo created 10 of these regional economic development councils earlier this year to vie for a share of $1 billion in precious state aid. Clayman says that the Taubman project has “been studied for many years, and it has potential to create jobs now when we need them.”
In what seems like a variation on an archetypal battle on LI, the mall’s opponents say they would prefer mixed-used structures such as condos, senior housing and offices.
Cameron, whose engineering firm oversaw the remediation of this polluted industrial location, sees a flaw in their argument.
“It’s a former Superfund site that’s been cleaned up to commercial standards; it’s not approved for residential standards. Who pays for that?” he asks, continuing: “The community doesn’t get it.”
Cameron adds that “for sale” senior housing is “not financeable” in today’s market. “So either nothing goes there, or commercial goes there.”
But there’s a potential snag in attracting commercial customers, too.
Starting relatively soon about $10 billion in commercial real estate mortgages on LI will come due, and that could also have a major effect on the market just when the Island’s economy may be climbing back on its feet, according to David Madigan, president of Sperry Van Ness Commercial Real Estate Advisors, whose office is in Holbrook.
In other words, rents will be renegotiated, most likely downward, vacancy rates will be higher and banks will require more equity from borrowers than before the Great Recession began, when many of these five-year mortgage agreements were set up.
“You don’t have to be Isaac Newton to figure out that there’s going to be some issues that have to be dealt with,” Madigan says. But “if people are realistic [about the marketplace], I think there are some great opportunities on Long Island.”
Cameron, who’s all for seizing opportunities, agrees:
“One of my favorite Asian adages [is:] ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today.’ ”
But the chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council also wonders whether the opportunities he had as a younger man can be replicated today.
“Where do the young workers live? I mean, other than in their parents’ basements? How do they afford to live here and still drive the economy?” he asks.
“We’re losing the young people who would be able to start up a company like I did,” Cameron says. When he was 35, married with two kids, he took out a second mortgage to launch his engineering firm. “Where does the money come from to start up companies today?”
And then he raises another issue, bubbling beneath the surface of LI’s troubled economy: the transition from one generation of entrepreneurs to the next.
“A lot of CEOs are baby-boomers,” he says. “What happens when the CEO hits retirement age?”
Executives could elect to turn their companies over to employees perhaps, or sell to a larger company based elsewhere that could move the profit centers off LI, as has happened with growing frequency.
Cameron doesn’t know what to expect from that demographic trend.But he does know that he, for one, has no intention of ever retiring, so he’ll ride the next wave, either figuratively or literally, as long as he can.
And that spirit is about as Long Island as it gets.