There are few people in Long Beach who can remember the last time that a crowd gathered outside a six-acre vacant lot just a few feet from the boardwalk, known to locals as the Superblock.
But about 150 people, including city, county and state officials and business leaders, gathered at the Superblock site Tuesday afternoon for an historic event: the groundbreaking for what developer Engel Burman of Garden City says will, in 36 months, be two nine-story condo buildings and a 10-story apartment building on six acres between Riverside and Long Beach boulevards.
About a dozen officials, current and former, including 84-year-old former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, symbolically dug their shovels into a lengthy wooden box and cast the dirt a few inches away, to cheers from a crowd.
That brief ceremony was a photo-op to show that 40 years of stagnation in building on the Superblock site had finally come to an end.
“This is a beautiful day for a beautiful project that is long overdue,” D’Amato said from a makeshift stage set on side of the fenced-off Superblock, where construction crews have already begun work. D’Amato had long advocated for the project.
The groundbreaking capped years of stagnation, lawsuits, negotiations, meetings between the developer, Long Beach officials and skeptical and sometimes hostile residents, who questioned the tax breaks that Engel Burman received, and the impact that a project of such size would have on the city’s sewer systems, roads and school district.
There were two major roadblocks that were overcome in the past year.
The first was the question last August of whether the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency would approve a $23 million, 25-year tax abatement. The meeting on the question, at the Allegria Hotel, was both virtual and in-person. Dozens of construction workers showed up to support the project. Residents continued to raise objections to the tax breaks.
At the end of last August, the IDA approved the project. IDA Chairman Richard Kessel said at the time, “I’m thrilled that we got to this point.”
Then, last month, the Long Beach City Council settled approved a settlement to end a $105 million lawsuit against the city by a former developer, Manhattan-based iStar. That ended a decades-long stalemate between the two sides and gave Engel Burman a $2.5 million credit that iStar had already paid for building fees.
Those actions paved the way for Tuesday’s ceremony.
Nassau County Executive Lauran Curran, who has pushed for the project since she took office in 2018 and is running for re-election this year, told the crowd, “On this six acres, something is finally going to happen, but this doesn’t just happen. It works by coming up with a plan. We need housing in Nassau County. This provides that.”
Condos are expected to sell in the $700,000 to $1 million range. Rentals are to go for $3,000 to $4,000 a month. There will also be 30 units of workforce housing with significantly reduced rents.
There are multiple pluses for the city: Long Beach will net $32 million in revenue, after expenses, during the payment-in-lieu-of taxes period. The city’s school district will collect in excess of $75 million during the PILOT period, and Nassau County will collect more than $13 million during the PILOT period.
The development will bring 238 rental apartments in a 10-story building called The Breeze, 200 condominium residences in two nine-story buildings called Isla Blu and about 6,500 square feet of retail space to the long-vacant site.
Scott Burman, a principal of Engle Burman, said that the next 90 days will see the installation of 21,200 drilled concrete piles, poured concrete pile caps and building foundations, off-site water and sewer work.
Kessel, who has chaired the Nassau IDA since 2018, said in a speech Tuesday that Curran had told him that one of her priorities was development of the Superblock.
“This is going to revitalize the City of Long Beach,” Kessel said. “This will put thousands of people back to work, and they will be union workers, which is how it should be.”
Another, speaker, John Bendo, president of the Long Beach City Council, said, “In 1990, I was single and not living in Long Beach. That’s how long this has been going on.”