Last Sunday’s Newsday featured an article about Long Island’s tourism industry. The reporter, Daysi Calavia-Robertson, did a wonderful job explaining the importance of tourism to our local economy and why it’s stagnating.
Some highlights include these facts and figures: The $5.9 billion tourism industry creates 9 million annual visits to Long Island and is responsible for about 100,000 jobs. Tourism on the island generates $722 million in tax revenue, but it will have a tough time growing because of the lack of a convention center, limited hotel space, and little investment in north-south mass transit.
With nimbyism rampant anytime and anywhere a developer tries to put a shovel in the ground, how can elected officials and developers creatively grow the tourism economy with minimal pushback? I believe the easiest answer is through the arts, sporting events and festivals.
In 2005, “The Gates,” featured in Central Park, captured the world’s imagination when 7,503 vinyl gates, forming a 23-mile path were installed by Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude. The self-financed project (zero expense to NYC) attracted 4 million visitors and generated over $250 million in additional economic activity in the city.
Why shouldn’t Long Island offer up its parks to artists all over the world for similar projects? Eisenhower Park, in East Meadow, is about 10 percent larger than Central Park at 930 acres. An independent screening committee could be established, so partisan politics can’t get in the way. Once established, art installations could be rotated bi-annually, ensuring tourism year after year.
I have already been in contact with studios that create interactive public art, such as Meow Wolf (don’t laugh at the name before you read about them), and there is interest! When you have a moment, visit the permanent $150 million art display in the new Hudson Yards, “Stairway to Nowhere,” which opened just a few months ago on Manhattan’s far West Side, and is already a must-see attraction for visitors.
Long Island’s premier sporting event is the Belmont Stakes. However, it’s only once a year, and it doesn’t have enough appeal to attract a wide variety of tourists and residents. I am part of a group attempting to create an Ironman Branded Triathlon Race, originating in Long Beach. If we could pull this off on Long Island, it could become over time as big as the NYC Marathon.
If the proposed arena at Belmont gets built, a retractable roof for the Islanders, and additional sporting events, would make it a can’t miss event space for all seasons, and the first of its kind hockey venue in the world.
We are an island surrounded by water, so we should have signature sporting events that utilize our greatest asset. A saltwater fishing tournament with a total of $5 million in prize money would be the richest angling purse in the world.
Sponsorships, broadcast rights and entrance fees should cover the cost, and the boom in economic activity, and industry created to support the event, would help Nassau and Suffolk Counties with budget deficits. A speedboat race around Long Island, which could include a sprint down the East River, would make Long Island coastal communities international hotspots and drive additional summertime economic activity outside of the Hamptons.
In the mid-1980s, the Oyster Bay Rotary Club came up with the idea of an Oyster Festival. Some 35 years later, 200,000 people venture out to one of the hardest to reach spots on Long Island for two days of food and grog. Clearly, there is a literal thirst and hunger for culinary and beverage events.
To expand Long Island’s food and wine industry, I recommend building a world-class food hall at Belmont, The Hub or Heartland Town Square, that rivals the great food halls of Europe. Harrods Food Hall in London, Dallmayr in Munich or Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona are tourist destinations that shouldn’t be missed. It would be easy to build a blow-out annual food and wine festival around a great food hall. All Long Island needs is a similar venue.
Whether we focus on art installations, sporting events or food halls and festivals, if we build it, tourists will come; and Long Island’s economy and tax revenue will grow.