Editorial: Macy’s plan an important test for town

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Brookfield Properties and Macy’s are expected to submit their plans for a $400 million, mixed-used development on the Manhasset Macy’s property to the Town of North Hempstead in coming days.

The town’s response to these plans will provide a test of North Hempstead’s ability to balance the desires of area residents and village officials with the needs of healthy downtown business districts in the 21st century and a strong local economy.

The project would add three apartment buildings containing 355 rental units, a hotel, an office building and retail and dining outlets to the Macy’s property on what is now a vast and unsightly parking lot surrounding the department store.

Most of the 2,271 parking spaces would be in an underground lot.

“The site has been a productive center of commerce for more than 50 years,” said Aaneen Oslen, vice president of mixed-use development for Brookfield. “With the changing landscape of retail real estate, the proposed project will ensure its success for the next 50 years.”

The apartment building would also provide much-needed housing for young people as well as older adults. The entire project would bring jobs and tax revenue.

But concerns, if not outright opposition, appear to be building among civic leaders and neighboring village officials.

At a meeting with the Greater Council of Manhasset Civic Associations, members expressed legitimate concerns about the impact on the Manhasset school system, water system, adjacent neighborhood, traffic and an already existing downtown district

 on Plandome Road.

Some village officials have echoed the concern about the impact on the downtown on Plandome Road as well as neighboring areas such as Great Neck, whose downtown is filled with empty storefronts.

These concerns are, in some ways, a positive sign about the proposed Macy’s development.

At a time when village officials have cited a decline in sales at brick-and-mortar locations as a reason for empty storefronts in their communities, even they apparently believe that a strong retail presence is possible on the Macy’s site.

Which begs the question, what’s stopping them from developing a plan that keeps or restores their downtown shopping districts?

Sue Auriemma, secretary of the Greater Council of Manhasset Civic Associations, pointed out that Manhasset’s downtown along Plandome Road has been struggling to hold on to businesses and attract new businesses because it doesn’t have sewers.

Which begs another question, why not?

Thanks to the efforts of the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce, which has been working with the Town of North Hempstead, sewers may be finally coming to Plandome Road.

We hope the town’s dereliction in providing sufficient infrastructure to Manhasset’s business district does not negatively affect the plan presented by Macy’s and Brookfield Properties.

Nor should the concerns of other villages that have failed to keep up with the needs of businesses in the 21st century.

It is true that the Macy’s site has advantages over the downtown districts. The partners have in Macy’s an anchor tenant that will attract shoppers by virtue of its well-known brand and aggressive advertising.

They also have ample and, if they continue their current practice and those of other shopping centers, free parking.

In contrast, downtown districts in villages require that shoppers pay for their time in a store and run the risk of getting a ticket. For some villages, this is a significant source of revenue but is counterproductive when downtown districts are competing with online stores and shopping centers where parking is free.

The amount of parking is often an issue as well.

Richard Nicolello, the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, said county legislators actually receive funds that can be used to increase parking availability – but have routinely redirected the money to other uses.

How about government funding new parking lots, only placing meters in front of storefronts to ensure they are available for quick purchases and making parking lots away from storefronts free? This would make the downtowns more competitive with malls, strip centers and the Internet.

What about the revenue lost? Find another way to finance your government not at the expense of local businesses.

Local government also needs sensible, customer-friendly parking regulations.

In one case – Great Neck Plaza – the mayor and trustees have discouraged dining in the village by banning valet parking. They are the lone village in the Town of North Hempstead to do so. They also have many empty storefronts – including those formerly occupied by restaurants.

The Great Neck Plaza business district, as well as other neighboring villages, might actually benefit from the people in the 355 rental apartments, office building and 200-room hotel planned by Macy’s and Brookfield Properties.

With reasonable amenities such as valet parking and an improved infrastructure to enable new restaurants to open, the Macy’s project’s apartments, hotel and office building could become a new source of customers for downtown business districts.

Macy’s and Brookfield Properties have another major advantage that villages and civic associations should consider – a coherent plan for an entire shopping district.

The mayors of both Farmingdale and Mineola, which have both seen turnarounds in their downtowns, told attendees of Blank Slate Media’s recent community forum that building a consensus around a single plan is a key to revitalizing local downtown districts.

Unfortunately, the leadership to bring these groups together seems missing in too many places.

On the other hand, Great Neck, Manhasset and other communities in the Town of North Hempstead have something that Macy’s and Brookfield Properties want – a Main Street feel.

We hope town officials will deal wisely with what Macy’s and Brookfield Properties are offering the Town of North Hempstead.

There are legitimate concerns with the project that need to be addressed. The town officials should work with Macy’s and Brookfield Properties to overcome them.

We also hope the town, as well as village officials, will look for ways to allow existing business districts to better compete with the Macy’s location as well as other shopping centers and online retailers.

To do otherwise, would be bad for the Macy’s site, the downtown shopping districts and the communities that surround them.

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