When hotel developer Lee Browning pulled out of the Marriott hotel project in Lynbrook on July 19, the decision upset many business owners, who say they thought the Marriott would have been great for their businesses and the village as a whole.
“I’m sick, thinking of what could have been,” said Harry Levitt, a co-owner of Mur-Lee’s Men’s & Boy’s Shop on Atlantic Avenue. “The Marriott was going to build additional parking, pay taxes, fees, and give the village 150 to 175 additional parking spaces.”
After submitting proposals to three different mayors and trying to build on four separate locations over the course of a 13-year period, Browning, the president of Riverhead Hotel Management Corp., decided to move on. He wrote a letter to Lynbrook Mayor Bill Hendrick last month, requesting to end the project, a six-story hotel atop a self-contained parking garage on what is now a municipal parking lot on the corner of Broadway and Langdon Place. Browning’s decision came after the village board further delayed a decision of its own on whether to grant him more time to submit building permits.
The garage would have included 306 parking spaces, divided between the village and the hotel. Village Attorney Ben Trencle said in June that the village would have collected $5 per day on each occupied hotel room or $14,000 per month from Browning — a minimum of $168,000 annually. Browning had guaranteed 60 percent occupancy, or he would have paid the difference.
Levitt said he was upset after seeing different mayors scare off hotel and condominium projects over the years. His brother, Bruce, who co-owns the clothing store with him, shared his opinion that the Marriott would have been a boon for Lynbrook’s business district, along with the new Regal movie theater being built on Merrick Road.
“As a business owner, I’d love to see anything that’s going to bring traffic to the downtown area,” Bruce Levitt said. “From my understanding, the Marriott was also going to build more parking spaces, which would also help ease the tension that the movie theater is going to create … I only see the positive. I don’t see the negative.”
Harold Reese, president of Harrontine Realty Corp, who owns the II Luogo restaurant and the Audi Lynbrook property, also expressed regret. Reese said the Marriott could have brought more business to the community and more tax revenue for the village and school district. “I think it’s a big loss to the community,” Reese said. “It shouldn’t take this long to put a deal together. No finger-pointing here, but it should have happened. Period.”
Nassau County Legislator William Gaylor III, a Lynbrook resident who has an office on Atlantic Avenue, also said he was disappointed to see the Marriott project come to an end. “I’m an advocate for improving and growing the downtown area,” Gaylor said, “and building it up so that we have a thriving, strong downtown ... I believe that the downtowns are the economic engine that drive the train for the villages, and we need to have a strong downtown, a strong business economy here in our community.” Gaylor called the Marriott a “perfect solution” to boost Lynbrook’s downtown.
Hendrick acknowledged the disappointment among some business owners in the area, but noted that the movie theater should bring people to Lynbrook. “My administration is not blind to the fact that we wanted to have foot traffic, — the right foot traffic helping the store owners,” he said. “After thinking about it, we thought eventually, [once] the movie house opens and we work diligently on the movie house, there will be more foot traffic.”
A history of delays
Browning, who first proposed building a Marriott in 2004, reached an agreement with Hendrick and the board of trustees in 2015 to build the hotel over the parking lot across the street from the Mangrove Feather factory, which remains unoccupied.
Browning was late in filing paperwork with the village for approval on several occasions. He was granted a public hearing on June 5, at which he requested more time to turn in requests and plans.
At the hearing, Bruce Hafner, the attorney representing Browning, said the paperwork took him longer than anticipated because of the building’s unusual characteristics. For example, he would need an engineer to inspect the new parking structure to ensure that it was sound, and had to work with Marriott architects to draw up plans for the hotel.
The village board was unable to reach a consensus on whether to grant Browning the extension or end the project. When it revisited the options at its July 17 meeting, trustees were uneasy about putting the project up for a vote. Two days later, Browning wrote the letter to Hendrick, and the project was killed.
Jeffrey Greenfield, a member of the Chamber of Commerce and a partner at NGL Insurance Group LLC, said he was never a proponent of the location because he believed that building the hotel over the existing parking lot would exacerbate concerns about whether the movie theater would have enough parking.
“I’ve been telling my fellow chamber members and the village officials that this proposed location was ill-conceived,” Greenfield said, “because it would take critical parking in the village offline at the time the movie theater was about to open.”
Despite the potential parking problems, Hendrick said he has not ruled out developing the lot at Broadway and Langdon Place, and still hopes to redevelop the feather factory. He said he also intends to refurbish the nearby train station and to fill all empty buildings in the village with stores and restaurants eventually. He added that the parking lot slated for the Marriott could also be used for condominiums.
“The board and myself are going to entertain [requests for proposals] on the Langdon Place property in the near future,” Hendrick said. “And we hope to attract the correct occupant that will benefit everybody.”