Superblock project could start soon

Project has been discussed for 40 years

Construction of the Superblock project, the largest development in Long Beach in decades, which has been in the discussion stage for nearly 40 years, may begin by the end of this summer, the developer said earlier this week. 
Scott Burman, principal of Engel Burman, the Garden City-based developer, said that “many of the elements required to move forward by the end of summer are coming into alignment.” 
The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency approved the project last summer, after years of fits and starts. “Since IDA approval, the Engel Burman team has been hard at work to check the many boxes required to achieve that milestone,” Burman said. “We are confident that we will be able to make that announcement before autumn arrives.” 
“It’s been a long time coming,” Richard Kessel, chairman of the IDA’s board of directors, said at a July 22 meeting. “I am very optimistic the closing is imminent It’s possible construction could begin before the end of summer,” Kessel added.
He said that Engel Burman had been “very cooperative about the need to secure as much union labor as possible.” And Kessel reiterated that city officials and community members would serve on a committee to monitor the project. He said he had asked City Council President John Bendo to designate a community representative. 
“Several of us have met with Engel Burman several times about the issues that are out there,” Kessel said. “In a project this size, there are always going to be issues that have to be resolved. Engel Burman has been very helpful, very cooperative. We want to get more out of them. I’m sure they’re aware of that. So far, there’s been an excellent dialogue. Now we want to expand that dialogue to the community itself, the city itself.” 
The $300 million project includes a 25-year, $52 payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, which sparked considerable controversy, moving many residents to attend meetings and publicly ask why a multi-million-dollar company needed a tax abatement, while others insisted that the project would bring much-needed revenue and jobs to Long Beach.
Engel Burman plans to build 200 condominiums and 238 apartments, a 1,000-space parking garage and some 6,500 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Under the PILOT program, the developer will pay $1.2 million in taxes in the first year, with increases up to $6.8 million after 25 years.
Engel Burman has also proposed that 12 percent of the apartment units be set aside as affordable housing, up from 10 percent. 
What to do with the Superblock, six acres of what are now empty lots strewn with rocks, sand and weeds off the beachfront, has been a lingering question for Long Beach for decades. The land was once home to garden apartments and a bowling alley, but those buildings fell into disrepair and were razed in the 1960s. 
The city took over the property in the 1980s, and sold it to the Haberman family, developers who planned to build high-rise residential towers. The proposal went nowhere. In the 1990s, Long Beach — which had long considered the site an eyesore in a city that was struggling to rebuild its image, bruised by the presence of run-down group homes for discharged psychiatric patients — issued a request for proposals. City officials hoped to hire a developer to build a hotel, a catering hall, a convention center, a restaurant and an assisted-living facility. But those plans, too, failed to materialize.
The Manhattan developer iStar proposed luxury apartment buildings for the Superblock two years ago, asking for tax breaks of up to $129 million, but its requests were denied twice by the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency. IStar filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city, claiming that Long Beach failed to support its bid for the tax breaks. The city filed a motion to dismiss the suit. 
In April, a settlement agreement was reached between Long Beach and iStar Financial that will drop the company's $100 million lawsuit against the city and pave the way for construction to begin on the Superblock.
Engel Burman has a history in Long Beach. A decade ago, it built the Aqua, an eight-story, 36-unit condo building with expansive ocean views, an indoor pool, a fitness room, an oceanfront clubroom and concierge service. 
Engel Burman mounted a low-key campaign to build support for the Superblock project, holding a series of meetings with residents, Chamber of Commerce leaders and city officials. But the developer ran into resistance to the tax breaks it wanted. So it proposed significant changes to its plan to build hundreds of condos and apartments in the hope of making it more palatable to the City Council. It initially asked for a PILOT of 30 years. Then, seeking to pacify critics, it reduced the time frame to 25 years.