Making an aah! place for East Patchogue
If ever there was a bulldog civic group, Focus East Patchogue is it.
Over a decade of persistent leaning on businesses and coordinating with Patchogue Village and town government led to the takedown and eminent domain ruling of a derelict movie theater; the extension of Patchogue Village’s sewer main on Route 112 to Phyllis Drive, with East Main Street Plaza as the first business there to sign up; the renovation of Salvation Army; eventual fencing and landscaping efforts including National Grid; old, empty buildings removed, and park areas extended or created on the east side, including Swan Lake and the Swan River Preserve. It was initially led by stalwarts president Marita Morello and board member Tom Berger.
The group announced its visioning plan on Wednesday this week with county and town officials that already includes an interested investor, the Northwind Group LLC, which has proposed a mixed-use, 80-unit multifamily residential complex on the corner of Grove Avenue and East Main Street and the glimmering possibility of realizing Plaza Cinema & Media Art Center’s dream of sliding into home space, where the former Plaza Theater once stood.
“It’s a little more than a year that [Legis. Rob Calarco] offered several times, ‘I can get you connected to the Suffolk County IDA,’” Focus East Patchogue board member John Quatrale explained of the initiation. Quatrale has been the community point person in the latest effort for a visioning project.
An East Patchogue Revitalization meeting was set up on May 2, 2018 at the Mediterranean Manor and a plan took off. “Making a Place on Montauk Highway” was conducted by the Regional Plan Association.
“We had an initial meeting with Rob and [IDA executive director] Kelly Morris in his office; we surveyed the area and walked it,” Quatrale said. “There was a planning meeting at village hall with mayor Paul Pontieri.”
“That is the gateway to the Patchogue community, so its important they get the same support from the village that we got from others,” Pontieri said. “What we do in the village affects East Patchogue and what they do affects us.”
Along the way, roads were repaired, and new sidewalks, architectural lighting, tree plantings and garbage receptacles cropped up.
Calarco and councilman Neil Foley hosted the East Patchogue Revitalization Project meeting at the Mediterranean Manor last May. What struck Foley at that meeting?
“The attendees watched what the village of Patchogue has become in the last 10 years and I believe it, too, that we can do that in the East Patchogue corridor,” he said. “We’re going to find a way to benefit the community without affecting quality of life.”
“When we did this planning study, Focus East Patchogue was the lead agency,” explained Calarco. “The county and town were partners, but we allowed Focus to plan it. It includes buildings closer to the street as opposed to large parking lots in front, access roads behind the properties with parallel roads like the ones in Sayville with back parking lots. The plan they rolled out was from Bay to Phyllis Drive.”
Jim Tsunis, managing member of the Northwind Group, said the initial pitch for his development called The Grove has changed slightly and was still in progress. “We’ve met with the town several times and will be filing a formal application in the near future,” he said. “The common goal is to redevelop that corner and jumpstart the East Patchogue area. What makes the area so appealing is that the sewer extends past our property, which will enable us to hook up and develop the density we require.”
“We had another meeting with Jim two weeks ago and are getting closer,” Foley said. “Besides leadership, the sewer lines are the game changer. If we didn’t have that, we’d have to go in a different direction.”
Tsunis is trying to work out the density logistics with the town; according to town code, 12 units are allowed per acre and the project’s parcel is 3.5 acres.
“The project at Grove might be the first piece; the second might be Plaza MAC,” Calarco said. “Campbell [Dalglish] is interested in finding a way and the community loves the idea of bringing in the theatre arts.”
Most people know Plaza MAC’s emergence initially with films at BrickHouse Brewery before moving to their current location. But he and his wife, executive director and co-founder Catherine Oberg, have led the call for a larger all-encompassing media arts center that incorporates several screens, classrooms and even storage space for film equipment, so film crews don’t have to drive into Brooklyn when a blip occurs should they be filming in Suffolk County. There would also be opportunities to train film crews, opening up a plethora of film arts and economic opportunities.
Dalglish made it clear that his current location as a boutique cinema space on Terry Street would remain. “Patchogue is filled with many restaurants and the Plaza has become a sort of nest, so we won’t give it up — that’s where we began,” he said. “If you change your location, you take a risk of losing patrons, and the village is building a beautiful walkway to the arts right now. We’re just expanding on it, but we took that treasure and history of love for the cinema out of the East Patchogue site. When I first moved here, I had my eye on that parcel. There was nothing to salvage except its spirit. Now here we are in a unique position. We can’t survive on a single-screen cinema; we can’t screen multiple international films and we have to wait. If we had three-screen cinema we’d be getting them first choice.”
Officials agree that Patchogue Village’s first step towards its major revitalization was purchasing the old UA Theatre on Main Street and creating it into the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, which just celebrated 20 years.
No heady yahoo celebration after the press conference; it was a first step, though a significant one. Their new brochure was one that now could be presented to investors. Quatrale was meeting with Tsunis and Dalglish afterwards to discuss the possibility of establishing a Plaza MAC Cinema Arts center on the former Patchogue Theatre site.
“As a not-for-profit we need to stay a not-for-profit,” Dalglish said. “I think Tsunis knows that and John knows that and we’re trying to be the best neighbor staying a not-for-profit.”
Quatrale grew up in East Patchogue on Grove Avenue, remembers Patchogue’s heyday, then its sad days, then its resurgence. “When I moved back in 2006, the Plaza Theater edifice was casting a shadow and True Value was vacant,” he said. “I saw a FOCUS East Patchogue flyer in Steve McGiff’s Swan Cleaners window and joined.”
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