The concept of downtown revitalization is no stranger to the media and public knowledge. These endeavors consist of sewer installation and wastewater management, updating and beautifying streets and storefronts, installing traffic-calming measures to improve transportation for pedestrians and bicyclists, improving general quality of life, and increasing commerce with the goal of making local economies more self-sustaining.

            However, these initiatives are often costly as they are time-consuming. But with the help of state and federal grant programs, these revisions and master plans can become a reality.

            The Town of Smithtown, with the help and lobbying of Kings Park community organizations, successfully appealed to Albany in the seventh annual Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Grant round, making Kings Park the top winner in the state and in the Long Island region.

            The grand prize: a $10 million check for downtown revitalization for Kings Park. Governor Kathy Hochul (D) made a surprise visit to Kings Park High School last Thursday morning to congratulate the community herself. The Governor also announced $4.5 million each for the villages of Bellport and Mineola as part of the New York Forward program.

            “There’s nothing like Long Island; it is a microcosm of the entire state. Investments we make here we can transport to other parts of the state,” said Hochul. “You have wineries, small farms, charming rural areas, and suburbs. I’m the first governor from the suburbs; I understand what they’re all about. We [Long Island] have vibrant cities and communities, we have the oldest history in the state and we have the brightest future. To me, you’re not remote at all, you’re always top of mind. I knew I had to come to Long Island first for my first rollout [of this grant] in the state.”

            Hochul then touted her record in office over the last two years and summarized her controversial $233 billion budget for the 2025 fiscal year as it pertains to Long Island. She mentioned retail theft, public safety, rebuilding the state’s mental health system, keeping kids in school, getting “back to basics” on phonics, among other initiatives.

            “Through the Downtown Revitalization Initiative and NY Forward, we are investing in New York’s downtowns – the heartbeat of our communities,” said Hochul. “With this funding, Smithtown-Kings Park, Brookhaven-North Bellport and Mineola will have the tools they need to reimagine their downtowns to enhance the quality of life for residents, draw visitors, and spur economic opportunity throughout their communities.”

            This competitive grant is the largest annual grant provided by New York State, to one community in each of the State’s ten Regional Economic Development Council (REDC) regions. The Town of Smithtown has applied for the grant in all seven of the years it has been administered. Previous grant winners include Westbury, Hicksville, Central Islip, Baldwin, Amityville, Riverhead, and Huntington Station.

            “Ever since the State hospital closed its doors, the small business district of Kings Park has slowly deteriorated. The lack of proper wastewater infrastructure prevented new restaurants and entertainment from choosing Kings Park as a home. Property owners couldn’t lease to good tenants due to fines for outdated wastewater systems. The progress and potential for growth became frozen in time and with it… the area suffered greatly,” said Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R-Kings Park). “Together, with massive community support, a talented team of planners, environmental experts, and our partners in government, Smithtown pushed forward with a real plan to revitalize. And now thanks to yesterday’s announcement, $10 million dollars will go towards completing our Downtown Revitalization efforts in the Kings Park Business District.”

            Supervisor Wehrheim mentioned the many grants for which the Town of Smithtown have applied and secured, including a $20 million Transformative Investment Program (TIP) Grant in 2017 – used to finance the connection of the Kings Park Business District to Suffolk County Sewer District Number Six – and the 2023 JumpStart grant of $2.5 million for traffic-calming measures and streetscapes improvements for Kings Park.

            The next step is how this money will be spent. Supervisor Wehrheim outlines the next steps of the process.

            “Upon notification from the Regional Economic Development Council, the Town will begin efforts to form a local planning committee, made up of Kings Park residents, community leaders, and representatives from the various organizations (IE: Fire/EMS, Historical, Youth/School, Civic etc.) who will conduct extensive community outreach and engagement,” says Wehrheim. “Their goal will be to identify appropriate projects to fund that support the Town’s vision (based on rigorous community input in updating the Comprehensive Master Plan) to create a walkable, vibrant downtown, centrally located to the Kings Park LIRR station, with easy access to restaurants, retail, entertainment, community space, and our beautiful parkland.”

            “The beauty of the DRI grant is that it is community-based engagement that dictates how the funds are spent,” continues Wehrheim. “People who might have mixed impressions as to what downtown revitalization looks like or fears about their own perceptions about this program are encouraged to get involved and have a say in how we reshape the downtown business district of Kings Park.”

            Wehrheim says that residents can use Lake Avenue in St. James as an example of how the Town of Smithtown collaborated with the community to “build a gorgeous and now vibrant walkable downtown.”

            The Town of Smithtown also notes the housing requirements met by the Town to qualify for the DRI grant. The total number of households currently in Smithtown is 38,165. Based on that number, a 1% increase in housing would be 381 homes in a year. The Town currently has this number of homes under development and is expected to meet this expectation.

            This is run in tandem with the policy that developments must have a workforce housing component for subdivisions with five or more units; 10% of the development must be for workforce housing.

            To qualify for workforce housing, a tenant’s gross annual income cannot exceed 130% of the median income for Suffolk County, adjusted for family size. Rent cannot exceed more than 33% of their gross annual income on housing expenses (rent plus a utility allowance).

            The Town of Smithtown has completed requirements to be considered a “Pro-Housing Community” by means of ninety-eight units at Fieldstone, 180 units at The Preserves, thirty-six units at Hudson Place, and seventy-one units at the Lofts at Maple and Main.

            “This taxpayer funded grant is the culmination of the hard work of Town of Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim and the Town Board,” said State Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “Their work will benefit our region for years by building the local economy, creating jobs and enhancing the lives of everyone who resides here. Combined with their successful work to bring sewers to Smithtown, they have set up the area for a great future and I thank them on behalf of our residents.”

            “The Smithtown and Kings Park downtowns will not only be revitalized with the help of this grant but will, essentially, be repurposed,” said Assemblyman Mike Fitpatrick (R-St. James). “The modern suburban downtown, or Main Street, to be viable and successful today, must be able to meet the needs and desires of a changing economy and society. Thanks to Governor Hochul’s initiative, the Kings Park and Smithtown downtowns will move boldly, and smartly, toward a more active, prosperous, and vital future. Good things are happening in Kings Park and Smithtown and I want to thank Governor Hochul for helping us get to where we need to be for a brighter future.”

            Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) also attended and accepted the checks with respective Town and Village leaders.

            “I thank the Governor for her continued commitment to Suffolk County. This funding is vital to the ongoing downtown revitalization efforts in both Kings Park and North Bellport and will help create jobs and jumpstart local economic growth in our communities,” said Romaine.

            In attendance also were Smithtown Board members Thomas J. McCarthy (R-Nissequogue), Tom Lohmann (R-Smithtown), and Lisa Inzerillo (R-Kings Park), as well as New York Secretary of State Robert Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Center Moriches), Mineola Village Mayor Paul Pereira, Suffolk County Clerk Vincent Puleo (R-Nesconset), State Senator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), and Suffolk County Legislators Catherine Stark (R-Riverhead), Ann Welker (D-Southampton), Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood), Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), and Rebecca Sanin (D-Huntington Station).

Any additional questions regarding the Kings Park DRI grant can be directed to the Supervisor’s office at [email protected] or the planning dept: [email protected].

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.