Building on the Future: An Update on Long Island’s Biggest Construction Projects

Long Island Construction Law did not create this content. This article was written by David Winzelberg, and was published to the Long Island Business News on December 13th, 2019.

When it comes to developing anything on Long Island, it can take years from concept to completion. And when it comes to creating transformative, large-scale construction projects here, it can take a decade or even longer just to get them started. Out of the four major mixed-use developments – representing more than $7 billion – that are currently on tap for Long Island, only one is well underway.

Development executives for each of these construction projects provided updates at last week’s Smart Growth Summit, organized by Vision Long Island.

Here is the latest status report on those big projects, including what they promise to deliver, where they’re at now and when we might expect them to blossom.

Station Square

Also known as the Ronkonkoma Hub, Station Square is the only one of these four major mixed-use developments that is well into its first phase of construction.

In fact, some people are already living in the apartments in the $700 million construction projects first three residential buildings, which opened in the last few months, two years after master developer Tritec broke ground.

First pitched in 2011, the transit-oriented redevelopment aims to transform 53 acres around the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station. The Town of Brookhaven approved the uniform building codes and urban renewal status for the massive Ronkonkoma project in 2014.

At full build-out, Tritec’s redevelopment is slated to include 1,450 residential units, 195,000 square feet of retail space, 360,000 square feet of office/commercial space and 60,000 square feet of flex space to be utilized for conference, exhibition, hospitality, and/or residential uses.

The project’s first phase includes three rental buildings at the recently opened Alston Station Square, which will be joined by three more buildings in the next few months, bringing a combined 489 apartments to the development.

Tritec officials said they are preparing to file a site plan for Station Square’s phase two by the end of the year and hope to begin building the second phase in the first half of 2020. Phase two will bring another 400 residences and 150,000 square feet of retail, including a specialty grocer, several restaurants and a movie theater. Future phases at Station Square will likely include an assisted living facility and a 125-room hotel within its mix of residential, office, retail and entertainment uses.

“This is a culmination of all of our recent revitalization efforts in other downtowns like Patchogue and Port Jefferson,” said Chris Kelly, Tritec’s vice president of marketing. “It also shows how big things can get done when the public and private sectors collaborate.”

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Ronkonkoma Vision Project

Just on the other side of the LIRR tracks from Station Square, another major development is still in the planning stages, though it’s starting to come into focus.

Currently known as the Ronkonkoma Vision Project, the $1 billion mixed-use plan aims to transform about 86 acres of municipal property between the Ronkonkoma LIRR station and Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Though it was initially presented with a major-league-sized arena as one of its centerpieces, the construction projects main features are now a convention center with 300-key hotel and a medical research and STEM education complex that will take up more than 200,000 square feet. There is still an indoor arena, though it’s expected to have about 7,500 seats. A 6,000-seat outdoor soccer/lacrosse stadium and four to six outdoor community practice fields are also part of the plan.

Developer JLL continues to finalize the particulars of the construction projects with partners Cameron Engineering & Associates, Crawford Architects and venue management company Spectra. The team expects to present the final plan to Suffolk County officials within the next few months.

Hockey Hall of Famer and former New York Islanders center Pat LaFontaine, who has partnered with the developers, is tasked with securing an American Hockey League team as the anchor tenant for the construction projects indoor arena, as well as bringing a women’s professional hockey team and women’s and men’s soccer teams to the development. He will also create a youth sports component for the project, including college and youth hockey, lacrosse, and academy soccer and youth tournaments.

The Ronkonkoma development site includes about 40 acres of county-owned parking lot, a 6-acre town-owned parcel just east of the parking lot and a 40-acre Islip-owned compost site south of Railroad Avenue.

The Suffolk County Legislature voted in June 2018 to approve a memorandum of agreement for redeveloping the site, now mostly used for commuter parking. The county, with input from the Town of Islip, had issued a request for qualifications in Oct. 2017 to redevelop the property, which the JLL-led team was chosen for.

John Cameron, principal of Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering, said the project will work well with Tritec’s development.

“We didn’t want to be in competition,” Cameron said. “We believe it will be highly complementary.”

Nassau Hub

Another plan that’s beginning to take shape is the long-awaited Nassau Hub, which promises to create a walkable, mixed-use center out of 70 acres of asphalt surrounding the Nassau Coliseum.

The $1.5 billion project will include 500 units of housing, 600,000 square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of restaurants and retail and a new hotel to the Uniondale site.

A conceptual master plan for the project, a partnership between RXR Realty and Onexim Entertainment Group, the leaseholder of the Coliseum property, is slated to be submitted to the Town of Hempstead later this month. Pending approvals from the town, developers say they hope to begin this construction projects first phase, two parking structures, in the first half of 2021.

Those parking garages, to be funded with $85 million from the state, are a key component of the Hub. They will accommodate more than 3,000 vehicles to make up for surface parking spaces lost in the redevelopment, freeing up nearly 20 acres in the process.

Nassau County officials have been trying to reimagine the Uniondale arena property for more than two decades and this isn’t RXR’s first bite of the Coliseum apple. Some 13 years ago, the company partnered with Charles Wang on the ill-fated $4 billion Lighthouse project, which would have included a new arena, 2,300 residences, a hotel and 1.5 million square feet of office and retail space. That plan was shot down by the Town of Hempstead in 2010 for being too dense.

A year after the Coliseum’s $180 million renovation was completed in April 2017, Nassau County issued a request for expressions of interest to the development community to remake the parking lots around the arena. After receiving more than a dozen responses, Onexim asserted its right to redevelop the site per its lease with the county and partnered with RXR on the plan.

Though still in its design phase, the construction project has already attracted a major tenant. Northwell Health plans on developing a complex at the Hub site that could include a mix of laboratory space, functions needed to support medical research, and facilities able to accommodate a range of exhibition, education, training and conference activities.

“The Coliseum is a great canvas,” said Rebecca D’Eloia, vice president for development for RXR. “This will be a model for a dynamic, walkable Long Island and truly a hub for innovation.”

Heartland Town Square

The largest of the four pending mega-projects, Heartland Town Square, is also the oldest, first pitched in 2002.

And now, nearly 18 years later, its developers say construction is projected to start by the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.

“We’re looking at about a year from now,” said Heartland developer David Wolkoff on when groundbreaking might take place.

On full buildout, which could take 30 years, the $4 billion project aims to eventually bring more than 9,000 apartments and more than 3 million square feet of retail and office space to the 452-acre site on the grounds of the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Hospital in Brentwood.

After many years of study and debate, the Town of Islip gave the greenlight to the first phase of the Heartland project in July 2017. Heartland’s first phase includes up to 3,500 apartments, 626,000 square feet of office space and 560,000 square feet of retail space on 113 acres of the site.

In Nov. 2017, the town’s approval was challenged in court by the Brentwood School District, which alleged that the project’s environmental impact studies underestimated the burden that the development will have on the Brentwood schools. And last year, a dispute with Suffolk County over funding Heartland’s sewer infrastructure, caused further delays.

But Heartland developer Gerald Wolkoff said he hopes to have the Brentwood schools lawsuit resolved amicably and he is currently working out the sewer conflict with the county.

“This is too important for Long Island not to have this settled,” Wolkoff said.

Once they break ground, the developers will need to build about $80 million worth of infrastructure–roads, water and sewers–before the rest of the development can move forward. Despite the heavy lift and other obstacles, including securing financing, the developers remain optimistic.

“There’s light at the end of the tunnel and that light is getting very bright right now,” David Wolkoff said.

Station Square image Courtesy of Tritec / Station Square model photo Courtesy of Judy Walker / Nassau Hub image Courtesy of RXR Realty

John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: [email protected] or (631) 608-1346.

This is a general information article and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. The content above has been edited for conciseness and additional relevant points are omitted for space constraints. Readers are encouraged to seek counsel from a construction lawyer who has experience with Long Island construction law for advice on a particular circumstance.

David Winzelberg covers real estate, development, land use, retailing, franchising and white-collar crime for Long Island Business News.

An award-winning journalist who spent 20 years writing about Long Island for The New York Times, David’s work has also appeared in The Atlantic magazine, Forbes.com and has been featured on CNBC’s “American Greed.” A former adjunct professor of journalism and former editor of a weekly community newspaper, David is a frequent panelist and moderator at area business events.

He can reached via email at [email protected] or at (631) 913-4247.