LIBN: Betting on Baldwin
by David Winzelberg // February 4, 2022
Always a bridesmaid, but never a bride, Baldwin is finally on its way to realizing the long-awaited revitalization of its flagging business district.
After looking longingly at the transformation of downtowns in places like Mineola, Farmingdale, Patchogue and a few other Long Island locales over the past couple of decades, business owners and residents in Baldwin are confident it’s now their turn.
Capitalizing on the Town of Hempstead’s adoption of an overlay zoning district in 2019, several developers are poised to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on projects aimed at creating rental housing and new commercial space along 1.4 miles of the Grand Avenue corridor that stretches from Merrick Road to Stanton Avenue.
After approving the new zoning, Baldwin got another boost when it was awarded a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant by the state in August 2019. Last spring, the DRI’s Local Planning Committee earmarked most of the money, $7.35 million, to assist four of the proposed projects, and another $2.35 million towards improving traffic and pedestrian safety along Merrick Road, improvement grants for property owners and a branding and marketing program to promote the area.
“We’re looking to have small business owners increase their foot traffic by having larger densities in areas where people can downsize or move into a community like Baldwin and have the amenities that makes it a pleasurable place to live,” said Darien Ward, president of the Baldwin Civic Association. “At the end of the day, the idea is to have young people stay in the community and, at the same time, offer them services that they can get in other places and to make Baldwin a destination location.”
Over the years, it’s been a long, unproductive road for the town in its on-again-off-again Baldwin revitalization efforts. In 2006, a development team was chosen by the town to reimagine a 6-acre stretch of vacant stores and rundown buildings on Grand Avenue just north of Merrick Road. But the developers were stymied by a failure to acquire the properties in the way of the project.
In 2012, the town picked a new developer for the Grand Avenue project, which was pitched as a $45 million plan to build 142 units of rental housing above 29,000 square feet of retail within walking distance of the Baldwin Long Island Rail Road station, but that proposal also never materialized.
But instead of the failed master developer approach of the past, the town’s new strategy of a property-by-property renewal seems to be just the right tonic.
“It gives the individual property owners the chance to negotiate directly with these developers and we hope it brings sort of a domino effect,” said Frank Jorge, president of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and owner of the GalaFresh Farms market on Grand Avenue. “If one of the big developers comes in and shows their confidence in the future of this community then smaller developers are going to invest, too. And little by little it can get done that way.”
One of those “big developers” is the Garden City-based Breslin Organization, which is planning to build a $100 million, five-story, transit-oriented development with 215 apartments on a site off the southeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue. The complex will bring a mix of studio-, one- and two-bedroom units, two levels on on-site parking and about 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of retail space that could be used for restaurants.
Amenities at the Breslin project, which is slated to receive $2 million of Baldwin’s DRI grant, will include a clubroom, fitness center, chef’s table room, dog-walking area, dog spa, sun deck and pedestrian plaza. Ten percent of the apartments will be priced as workforce housing, according to David Orwasher, chief development officer for the Breslin Organization.
“It’s a tough intersection,” Orwasher told LIBN. “We’re trying to create a level of walkability between Grand Avenue and Sunrise Highway. We’re creating a private/public space that amounts to a park-like setting. We’re particularly proud of our commitment to reach into the mission of the DRI as well as the overlay code to help stimulate this revitalization activity in this area that’s been neglected for very many years.”
Another development team consisting of Rochester-based Park Grove Realty and the Community Development Corporation of Long Island is planning to develop a 33-unit affordable rental building on a vacant commercial site at 785 Merrick Road, just west of Grand Avenue.
Called Baldwin Commons, the $16 million project will create a four-story, 32,504-square-foot building with 27 one-bedroom units and six two-bedroom units that will be available to renters earning 60 percent of the area median income. The project is slated to be assisted by $850,000 of Baldwin’s DRI grant and the developers are also in the process of securing economic incentives from the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency.
The Baldwin Commons developers are awaiting site plan approval from the town for their plan, which also requires approval from the town’s Design Review Board, which has yet to be appointed.
“Park Grove and its partner Community Development Corporation of Long Island are very excited about this project,” said Allen Handelman, a Park Grove vice president. “We are encouraged by the broad support that Baldwin Commons has received by the community. We believe that Baldwin Commons will be the catalyst that triggers the long-sought redevelopment of the Baldwin Urban Renewal Area.”
Huntington-based developer G2D Group is planning another transit-oriented project at a Grand Avenue commercial site just steps away from the Baldwin LIRR station. G2D is seeking to develop a four-story, 65,000-square-foot mixed-use building that will bring 54 apartments over about 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail/office space.
The $28 million project will have 42 two-bedroom and 12 one-bedroom rental units with amenities that include a club room and fitness center. Ten percent of the apartments will be priced as workforce housing with some units set aside for people with autism and other disabilities.
G2D is no stranger to downtown revitalizations. The company built the first project in Hicksville’s downtown reboot, redeveloping a vacant four-story office building into a mixed-use building with 18 rental apartments over 6,000 square feet of commercial space a stone’s throw from the Hicksville LIRR station.
G2D also developed Gateway Plaza, a mixed-use project that brought 64 apartments over 14,000 square feet of commercial space to New York Avenue in Huntington Station that served as a major boost to that community’s downtown revitalization. The developer is also working on projects in downtown Riverhead and Roslyn.
“We like to go places where our development product is welcome,” said Greg DeRosa, CEO of G2D Group. “It’s important that the places that we build in see our projects as assets to their community and their existing streetscape. That’s really important to us.”
DeRosa said the need for more diverse housing options on Long Island is more important than ever, especially for those looking for an alternative to single-family homes or traditional garden-style apartments.
“Something that I am very proud of and passionate about, we are going to be earmarking a percentage of the affordable units in Baldwin to folks with autism and other disabilities,” DeRosa said. “It remains at the forefront of our commitment to also provide housing options for people with disabilities.”
Among the other projects that have been proposed for Baldwin’s downtown is a transit-oriented, mixed-use development from Nickart Realty at 775 Brooklyn Ave. The $42.5 million plan, which calls for 107 apartments over 24,000 square feet of commercial space, was awarded $3.5 million from the DRI funding.
Additional proposals include a five-story, mixed-use building at 2130 Grand Avenue that will bring 60 apartments over 7,800 square-feet of commercial space. The $11 million project from Baldwin Center LLC was granted $1 million in DRI funds.
Inwood Property Holdings has proposed a $14 million project that would bring 56 apartments over retail space at 1891-1893 Grand Ave. and Malkin Appliances is partnering with Chartwell Hotels and Cassata Realty on a $6 million project to redevelop its retail store at 1999 Grand Ave. into a four-story building that would bring 27 apartments over 8,000 square feet of retail space.
“The chamber feels this is exactly what Baldwin needs,” Jorge said. “If these developers come in and stick to their plans it’s going to make Baldwin a beautiful place and make it very attractive to businesses.”
And while the revitalization of Baldwin’s downtown is getting underway, the locals would like to see the process go faster.
“There are certain projects that had public support and the town has not put plans forward as yet,” said Ward. “The town has an infrastructure program for facades but hasn’t done that yet. They also haven’t started the branding effort that they got money for. These are low-hanging fruit items and they haven’t done them yet.”
When asked about when those projects and other components of the revitalization effort would be moving forward, Hempstead Town officials did not respond to several requests for comment.
However, despite the delay, Ward is still optimistic about Baldwin’s comeback. The civic leader also credited Eric Alexander and Vision Long Island for their work on the overlay zoning district that paved the way for the revitalization effort.
Alexander said his group and the town worked closely with Baldwin residents and local business owners to create the new zoning district.
“This allowed multiple proposals to come forward from local builders and helped secure the $10 million grant from New York State,” Alexander said. “Community leadership has been key to this process from the start and will be the glue that aids in the area’s recovery post coronavirus.”