Southern Land Company (SLC) is an ardent believer in the power of community. Community, after all, is central to every micro and macro decision made on SLC projects across the nation. At the end of the day, “communities are a collection of families, not a bunch of individuals with individual ideas, but a like-minded group of families whose wants and needs should align with their community leaders.”
Those are the wise sentiments of Paul Pontieri, mayor of Patchogue, New York, for more than 18 years now. Mayor Pontieri has personally ushered in a transformative new era for the once-sleepy village of Patchogue by investing in better, higher-quality housing, most notably the 2007 opening of the New Village at Patchogue multifamily property.
Patchogue dates back all the way to the late 18th century, with the construction of a riverside mill. A thriving retail shopping location through the early twentieth century, Patchogue, like many villages, suffered a steep economic decline when malls began appearing in the 1970’s. A core community stayed in-tact, but Patchogue didn’t return to its former glory until the election of the current administration.
Eighteen years and $650 million dollars of development later, Mayor Pontieri shared his perspective on Patchogue’s tremendous economic boom during his tenure and paints a picture of what communities where SLC plans to build multifamily projects, such as 145 West Shore Road on the outskirts of Port Washington, can anticipate by focusing on better, more thoughtful housing.
In Mayor Pontieri’s words, “I wanted to put feet on the street. Once people are walking around downtown, the businesses follow.”
“Port Washington needs to look at the assets they have around them and decide how they can enhance them for community benefit,” said Mayor Pontieri.
As Patchogue continued to develop and mature in Mayor Pontieri’s multi-decade tenure, an entire culture, seemingly hidden within the community, was brought into the open and blossomed along with the village. It turns out Patchogue housed a fervent art community beneath its quiet exterior.
Once the mayor recognized this nascent culture, he prioritized initiatives, investments, and projects that encouraged this community and allowed it to better flourish, all while embracing the idea of Patchogue as a nucleus for arts and entertainment.
When developers with TRITEC Real Estate Company were first exploring Patchogue as the location for New Village, the mayor sent them a comprehensive book on the village’s history, community, and culture. Only when the developers had an earnest understanding of the people and culture their multifamily building was intended for was Mayor Pontieri comfortable green-lighting a project he knew was personalized to suit their needs.
Half a decade before ground was broken on New Village, the south side of the village faced its own transformation. What once were old boarding houses and dilapidated hotels with safety flyers to warn residents of hazards became a healthy, modernized housing option that changed the southern end of Patchogue.
Mayor Pontieri continued to prioritize and perpetuate this budding arts community by deeming the village a nucleus for arts and entertainment, something that “has completely changed the dynamic of the village. What used to be JCPenney and dated housing units became restaurants, galleries, and theaters.”
The economic boom that Patchogue has witnessed is a direct result of embracing the existing culture and investing in thoughtful, design-forward living options that better the entire community.
Today, Patchogue is home to a 1100-seat performing arts center. The village has an incredibly active arts council, “one of the most active on all Long Island.” Years of actively pursuing grand funds has led to an arts walkway that stretches from Main Street near the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts to Terry Street, the home of Artspace, the Patchogue Arts Council and Plaza Cinema.
The walkway has a custom metal archway with a second one in the works and is lined with murals. The section that spans the parking lot has embedded custom artist designed concrete paver art.
Arts, entertainment, and restaurants have once again become a defining part of Patchogue’s identity. The village has dinner crowds, family crowds, “night out” crowds, art crowds, and more that give it a renewed liveliness. Patchogue is unrecognizable from 2006, and once more a community that people are eager to visit or live in.
“DENSITY IS A PRODUCT OF DESIGN”
Organic growth is driven by thoughtful design. No matter what the intention of a building or business may be, at the end of the day, the community’s perception is based on its outward appearance. Although it might sound superficial, to Mayor Pontieri, and to SLC as a company, design is absolutely paramount.
“Before you build something, tell people what you’re doing to build. Density isn’t math, it’s design,” says Mayor Pontieri. Is there enough parking? Is it walkable? Does it match the aesthetic of the existing community? Each consideration is a lynchpin for successful development and community growth.
The development of New Village, a $110 million property with 291 residential units, was meticulously managed by Mayor Pontieri and other community leaders to ensure its potential for Patchogue was maximized. That meant the inclusion of hundreds of additional parking spaces, 40,000 square feet for retail space, and 15,000 square feet of office space for local business growth.
The mayor retained a great deal of influence over the design of New Village to ensure it was optimized for Patchogue. People needed a walkable community and new housing options that blended in.
“Every community has its own assets, so it’s about how we maximize them. What do we already have that can change who we are? How do we become a better us? What can we do to make this a better place to live?”
Prioritizing people every step of the way is at the heart of Mayor Pontieri’s success in Patchogue, as well as a deeply-rooted pillar of SLC’s company ethos. The wants and needs of the residents and community leaders need to remain strictly aligned with those of developers.
Mayor Pontieri continued: “It’s about thoughtfully marrying community with housing. Developers themselves shouldn’t develop properties. Follow the rules of the community. After all, you’re building the future of families.”
A NEW GENERATION
When Mayor Pontieri took office in the early 2000’s, the median age in Patchogue was 42. Today? The median age is 36. Considering it traditionally takes a decade to move that figure one year in either direction, it’s not hyperbolic to call that relatively short-term shift stratospheric.
That sort of transformation obviously isn’t organic; it’s a product of a deeper cultural shift and the re-establishment of an entire community. Patchogue is once again attracting younger families. Those “feet on the street” that Mayor Pontieri strived for have shown up in droves, and they’re younger feet at that.
Signs of youth and progression are elsewhere too, specifically in the village leadership. The Board of Trustees in Patchogue has grown increasingly younger as well as multicultural, both a reflection of the village’s new residents.
An unfortunate reality is that there is always some local reluctance to change, and some Patchogue traditionalists didn’t support the transformation of old buildings, the construction of new buildings, or even general population growth as Patchogue’s reinvention came to fruition. Today, however, the village is happier and more prosperous than ever before, according to Mayor Pontieri, and whatever nay-sayers there were seem to have been thoroughly won over.
Take, for example, the school district, which was rightfully apprehensive about hundreds of new residential units in between New Village and other developments. As of 2019, this growth only added 48 new students to the school system, which in turn earned the schools $5 million in tax revenue.
In Patchogue, seemingly everyone wins.
Signs of community-wide prosperity can be seen anywhere and everywhere across Patchogue today.
For one, the property value of every home, retail space, or parcel of land in the village has grown tremendously. Many dry spaces or once-vacant lots have now turned into popular destination restaurants.
Main Street, once a relatively quiet strip with one or two restaurants, is now the proud home of a new brewery, tap room, live music venue, coffee shops, office spaces, an array of restaurants, and more. There’s even a Starbucks!
A large-scale health center is currently being constructed in the heart of the village, among other ongoing projects all across Patchogue. Recently, village leaders were able to invest $1.2 million into a full renovation of the Patchogue Theatre, the largest theatre of its kind in all of Suffolk County..
Infrastructurally, Patchogue has also benefited from an upgraded new sewer plant, expanded utilities, and exponentially more investment into parks and green spaces. These efforts, and others, are in large part due to federal and state grants that have been easier to receive thanks to the village’s progressive, on-the-rise trajectory.
According to Mayor Pontieri, New Village at Patchogue was a linchnpin for the comprehensive, village-wide revitalization that he and his administration have spearheaded. Although it’s perfectly understandable for residents to have felt reticent about the construction of a large-scale project that seemed too progressive at the time, it’s been the catalyst for healthy cultural, communal, and financial growth for every single resident in Patchogue.
Not because it offered a sleepy village an additional housing option. Not because it had a favorable location in town. But because Mayor Pontieri forged a strong working relationship with the development team to ensure New Village was aesthetically pleasing and only stood to benefit the community at large.
Thanks to his brave and forward-thinking leadership, Patchogue is now “on the map” like never before.