Hampton Bays Business Owners Skeptical Of ‘New Main Street’ Proposal

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Although some business owners in Hampton Bays are intrigued by the idea of a 36-acre park being built just north of Montauk Highway and west of Squiretown Road, many are underwhelmed by the idea of the “new Main Street” that could come with it.

In the preliminary plans for Good Ground Park, which were presented to the Southampton Town Board last week, MKW Landscape Architecture—the New Jersey firm hired to design the recreational facility—included in its plan an expansive boulevard at the south end of the park. The road would feature both an eastbound and westbound lane separated by a grass-covered median, accompanied by approximately 100 diagonal parking spaces.

The plan also proposes a row of new storefronts along the southern side of the new boulevard, in accordance with the town’s wishes.

But some current business owners are skeptical about whether the town will be able to find enough entrepreneurs willing to take part in this venture.

“Who’s going to be in the shops? Who’s going to pay the taxes?” Mark Schumacher, the owner of Hampton Music and Arts Inc. on West Montauk Highway, said this week. “On the surface, I’m going, ‘I can’t understand …’ There are a lot of shops around town that aren’t occupied as it is.”

One of the driving forces behind the park for town officials and hamlet residents is the desire to establish a draw in downtown Hampton Bays, to help generate more foot traffic in the area. As it stands, the park also would include an outdoor amphitheater to host shows and concerts, two playgrounds, an extensive walking trail and an adult fitness center.

Mr. Schumacher, who has been in business on the hamlet’s Main Street since 1975, said Hampton Bays has always been an area with very little foot traffic, and he doesn’t foresee a park changing that. “It seems out of the way, in so far as people from other towns coming here for it,” he said. “I can’t see it drawing people from East Hampton or Westhampton—there are fine parks between here and there.”

Rick Martel, an employee of Skidmore’s Sports and Styles on East Montauk Highway, said he thinks the park is a positive first step toward drawing more people to the Hampton Bays business district, but he said the town should put less emphasis on the business portion of the development, which he said would be difficult to cultivate. “I think they should concentrate on the park as a park,” he said.

Mr. Martel also said while the amphitheater is a nice feature, it will draw people to the hamlet only when there is a show or an event going on, such as a festival. He argued that the park needs something else to keep people coming throughout the year.

“You need another feature other than the park itself,” he said. “I think the amphitheater part is good, but you need something else, like a merry-go-round or a water feature that can be frozen over during the winter to be turned into an ice skating rink.”

A dozen properties would border the southern side of the park, some of which run contiguous to West Montauk Highway while others are separate and presently landlocked, but each is zoned village business and/or residential. Deputy Southampton Town Supervisor Frank Zappone explained that it would be up to the individual property owners to develop the properties, and that the town would do whatever it can to facilitate new businesses being established along that stretch.

Mr. Zappone, who has been spearheading the development of the park for the past year, noted that while some shop owners were brought in during the initial discussions about the park, the town has not reached out to the business community since hiring MKW and putting the plans together. He added that it is still early in the process and reaching out to businesses now would be premature.

“We have not had those formal discussions yet because plans are not finalized,” he said. “Once that’s more fully developed as a plan, then we can approach the business owners.”

The town is expected to submit plans compiled by MKW to the state later this month to apply for the first of several grants it is seeking to help finance the estimated $3.8 million project.

Joyce Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is excited about the idea of having a new destination in downtown Hampton Bays, especially one that could attract more foot traffic. However, Ms. Gilbert said the chamber would like the town to make sure the development of a “new Main Street” doesn’t come at the expense of the existing Main Street.

“The chamber welcomes any new business that would come to Hampton Bays, but I think the chamber, right now, doesn’t want anything that would harm the existing business, so I hope the town takes that into consideration,” she said. “I’m interested to see how that actually comes to fruition. I like the proposal—what the final product is could be completely different.”

Sue Gilmore opened her storefront, the Tin Roof gift shop, on East Montauk Highway three months ago. While she has enjoyed being a part of the Hampton Bays business community, Ms. Gilmore said she wouldn’t mind some additional foot traffic.

But she too questioned whether the town should be focusing on a “new Main Street,” to use the parlance of town officials, when Montauk Highway—the original Main Street—still has vacancies and has yet to reach its full potential.

“I like the idea of the amphitheater and making it more park-like back there, but I don’t know how necessary it is to build more businesses,” she said.

Others, meanwhile, have nothing but enthusiasm for the new park.

Charles Bishop is the owner of Squiretown Restaurant on West Montauk Highway, next door to the pocket park that will eventually serve as one of the primary access points for Good Ground Park. Despite the fact that the types of businesses the town plans on targeting for the new boulevard include restaurants and cafés, Mr. Bishop said he is not worried about potential competition. Rather, he said he sees it as an opportunity to draw more patrons and to give the downtown area a clearer sense of identity.

“I don’t see people from East Quogue coming over to use [the park] specifically, but I think during events people will come from elsewhere,” he said. “And it’s just something that the locals can take advantage of and call our own.”

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